Skip to main content

Full text of "The Age Of Absolutism 1660-1815"

See other formats


129 365 



THE AGE OF 
ABSOLUTISM 

16601815 



MAX BELOFF 

Gladstone Professor of Government and Public Administration 
in the University of Oxford and Fellow of All Souls College 



HARPER TORCHBOOKS y THE ACADEMY LIBRARY 

HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK 



to 
P.D.W. 



TEE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM, 

1660-1815 

Printed in the United States of America 

This book was originally published in thf History series 
of the Hutchinson University Library, edited by Sir 
Maurice Powicke, in 1954, and is reprinted by arrange- 
ment with Hutchinson fc? Co., Ltd., London. 

First HARPER TORCHBOOK edition published 1062 



CONTENTS 

Preface X 

I The Age Defined 1 1 

II The European Scene: 16601789 28 

in France 46 

iv Spain and Portugal 77 

v Prussia and Austria 104 

VI Russia and Poland 133 

vil The Maritime Powers and the 

American Revolution 152 

viil Absolutism in Transformation: 17891815 170 

A Note on Books 1 83 

Index 185 

MAPS 

The Great Powers of Europe: 1660 vi-vii 
The Great Powers of Europe: 1789 180-181 




THE GREAT POWERS 
OF EUROPE : 1660 

Brandenburg - Prussia W///f///^ 
Swedish Empire iiinmiini|p 

Venice rv^vj 

200 400 MILES 



RUSSIA 



"GEOGRAPHIA" LTD 



PREFACE 

THE suggestion that I might write an essay on the Age of 
Absolutism was made to me by Sir Maurice Powicke a number 
of years ago at a time when I was working on the American 
Revolution. But for his constant and kindly encouragement, I 
would long ago have abandoned the attempt, deterred by the 
difficulty of the theme and the doubts which were bound to 
arise as to the method of treatment. What follows is by no 
means to be thought of as a compendium of eighteenth-century 
European history. I have tried instead to emphasize some 
elements in the society and politics of the period which appear 
to be of most consequence from the point of view of those 
whose interest in history is the pragmatic one of trying to 
understand their own times. To look at a political system from 
the point of view of the revolution which brought it to an end 
may seem needlessly perverse: in the space allotted to me, it 
has certainly meant omitting much which a full portrait of the 
age would demand. I can only hope that the starkness of outline 
which such selectivity imposes will help to reveal in their due 
importance certain aspects of the period which a fuller and 
more conventional treatment might fail sufficiently to emphasize. 
I am deeply indebted to Mr. John Bromley, Fellow of Keble 
College, for his constructive reading of the proofs. I am also 
grateful to Miss Molly Rubin of St. Hilda's College for assist- 
ance with the index. 

M.B. 

Oxford, 
October 1953. 



CHAPTER I 

THE AGE DEFINED 

THE choice of an historical period as the subject of a book is 
itself an intellectual commitment, since the notion of period 
is arbitrarily imposed upon a continuous development. But it is 
one of the choices that have to be made, if history is to be 
intelligible. The problem has often been avoided by recourse to 
the habit of thinking in centuries a habit that comes naturally 
to people brought up on a decimal system of numerals. So 
pervasive is this tendency that some historians have written as 
though the centuries themselves were the subject of their 
inquiry, and have attempted to define an "eighteenth century" 
or "nineteenth century" attitude or style. The phrase fin de 
siecle meaning decadent is used about writers of the 1890s in 
oblivion of the fact that the 1790s were for a whole generation of 
poets an era of rebirth and renewal, when "to be young was 
very heaven". 

Equally dangerous are terms that carry in themselves the 
description of an age and are so broad and general that no 
precise chronological limits can reasonably be assigned to 
them. Anyone who is aware of the prolonged and sometimes 
acrimonious discussions as to when the "Renaissance" took 
place or as to what centuries fall within the "Dark Ages", can 
see into what purely verbal entanglements one is ensnared. 

The period 1660-1815 designated here as the "Age of 
Absolutism" can easily be assailed as providing* a framework 
that helps to conceal as many important lines of demarcation 
as it suggests. And there is much truth in this argument. 

The historian whose main interests lie in economic life 
would point out, for instance, that the first half of the eighteenth 
century saw little change in the techniques of production or in 
the economic relations resulting from them. In the latter half 
of the century, however, there took place the first of those 
major changes that are usually classed together as the "indus- 

11 



12 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

trial revolution", so that at the end of our period the "railway 
age" with all that the phrase implies is almost upon us. The 
new science of the demographers has noted that it is at some 
point within the period probably about 1750 that there begins a 
considerable acceleration in the rate at which thfe population of 
Europe increased, after long centuries of relative stability. We 
may roughly estimate they tell us, the population of Europe 
in 1700 as 118,500,000, in 1750 as 140,000,000 and in 1800 as 
187,000,000. And they are no doubt right in asserting that 
such a change of which the causes are still obscure, had 
profound intellectual as well as social effects, so that the middle 
of the eighteenth century becomes the real turning point. 

Yet to those who argue in this way, it is possible to answer 
that the change in the economic structure and in mortality 
rates rested on technical developments that were themselves the 
product of major theoretical advances in the natural sciences, 
and that these were on their way to being accomplished in the 
middle of the seventeenth century. This scientific revolution 
that we may try to locate within the familiar history of this 
island by thinking of the discussions leading to the formation 
of the Royal Society as taking place during the turmoil of our 
own Interregnum in the 1650s, increasingly appears to historians 
as of at least equal importance with the revival of classical 
studies in Italy two centuries earlier. Nor of course was the 
development in technique, in the control and utilization by man 
of natural resources, the only result of this scientific revolution. 
This was one of the ways in which it reacted upon the problems 
of society and government. 

For only the relative peace and stability conferred upon 
the countries of western Europe by the strong governments of 
the early part of the "Age of Absolutism" could provide the 
social atmosphere within which the sciences could flourish, 
and economic life with them. On the other hand the social 
impact of economic advance whose benefits were necessarily 
unevenly distributed as between one class or group and another, 
presented the biggest of the problems faced by the legislator and 
administrator. In a relatively static society the prescriptions of 
monarchical absolutism might have worked better and its 
institutions have proved fnore durable. And furthermore, this 



THE AGE DEFINED 13 

new pre-occupation with mathematics was an essential element 
in the novel governmental attitudes of the period. In the 
second half of the seventeenth century men like Sir William 
Petty in England and Vauban in France, began to turn to the 
possibility of using the statistical method for the study and 
regulation of society, for purposes more far-reaching and subtle 
than the simple inquiries into individual and local taxable 
capacity that inspired Domesday Book and the other surveys of 
the Middle Ages. 

One can find precedents indeed, for the attention paid by 
Louis XIV's great minister Colbert to the collection and 
analysis of statistics. But it was during his period of office 
that the regularity and continuity of the practice was first 
established. In an absolute monarchy the purpose of statistical 
inquiries such as those in the 1690s by the Intendants (chief 
administrative officers) of the thirty-two "generalities" into 
which France was divided for governmental purposes was 
still to aid the monarchy in its task, and their findings were 
consequently regarded as State secrets, as they continued to be 
in absolutist Russia well into the nineteenth century. The 
Swiss banker Necker, who was the French minister of finance 
in the period immediately before the Revolution was one of the 
earliest advocates of the publication, and interchange, of 
statistical information. 

Because of the popular belief that such knowledge could 
benefit only the government and not the subject, the collection 
of this information was unpopular. A bill for a census in Great 
Britain was rejected in 1753 as dangerous to the liberties of 
the subject. And although there were partial and inaccurate 
attempts at a census in countries as far apart as Spain and 
Sweden, and in various other lands, it was necessary in this 
field of government as in others, to await the coming of democ- 
racy to do what the old absolutism had proved too weak to 
accomplish. The first modern census was that of the United 
States in 1790; the French Constituent Assembly ordered one 
in 1791 but it was not carried out properly; and the first 
real census in France as in Britain dates from 1801. 

This relative inaccessibility of the necessary information 
even though compensated for to some extent, by non-official 



14 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

investigations such as the celebrated inquiry of Gregory King 
into the population and wealth of England in the reign of 
William III may help to explain why the theoretical apparatus 
of economics in its modern sense took so long to develop despite 
the long history (going back at least to the fifteenth century) 
of intellectual inquiry into isolated economic phenomena such 
as foreign exchange rates. 

The final major impact of the scientific revolution and in 
the long run, the most decisive and dramatic is the seculariza- 
tion of society and thought that it helped to promote. The 
period might be regarded from this point of view as an age of 
comparative scepticism and toleration at least where the 
educated strata of society were concerned between the fierce 
wars of religion following the Protestant Reformation and the 
conflicts of the "secular religions" of our day which are in large 
part a legacy of the French Revolution. The impact of the 
scientific revolution was only one of the factors in the destruc- 
tion of the old certainties. The development of a new critical 
approach to history itself paradoxically the work of devout 
churchmen such as the French Benedictines of St. Maur was 
another. And still more important was the widening of geo- 
graphical horizons leading to an amateur but influential 
dabbling in what would now be described as comparative social 
anthropology (though the terms were then unknown) and a 
consequent weakening of the notion that civilization itself was 
identical with what had been transmitted to the moderns from 
Jerusalem, Athens and ancient Rome. 

It was because they diffused this new scepticism rather than 
because they themselves were pioneers of the scientific spirit 
that the French "philosophes" of the eighteenth century retain 
their great role in European history. A Fontenelle was as 
necessary from this point of view, as a Newton from the other. 
And it was the diffusion of scepticism that made it impossible, 
at least in the areas profoundly touched by the "enlightenment", 
for political absolutism to rely upon divine authority. It was 
compelled to argue its case in the human arena, as Hobbes a 
forerunner had argued it in seventeenth-century England; 
and as the "Levellers" and "Diggers" in the England of that 
age had shown, once one begins to take to pieces the social 



THE AGE DEFINED 15 

fabric and to question its origins, the process is difficult to stop. 

Thus did the Age of Absolutism engender the instruments of 
its own destruction, or rather of its metamorphosis into the 
democratic absolutism of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic 
age. But it is well not to overlook the fact that the transition from 
belief to scepticism was neither a rapid nor an even process. 
It would manifestly be wrong to believe that the religious issues 
of preceding ages had vanished with the end of the "wars of 
religion" with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. On the con- 
trary, the map of Europe according to religions Orthodox, 
Catholic, Uniate and Protestant must always be superimposed 
upon the maps of Europe according to racial stock, language 
and social pattern, to make intelligible the politics of our 
period, as indeed of much later ones. And where the religious 
frontier was not clear-cut, where Catholic overlapped with 
Protestant as in western Germany, or where Catholic, Uniate 
and Orthodox collided on the disputed and moving border 
between Russia and her western neighbours, new possibilities of 
conflict still existed. Nor where Christian Europe met the Mos- 
lem East in the Mediterranean or the Balkans had a still deeper 
and more ancient conflict ceased to have meaning. As late as 
1716, Pope Clement XI was talking of a crusade against the 
Turk. 

If on the international scene, such motives now played a 
secondary part as compared with the greed of dynasts or of 
expanding mercantile economies, if the Turk was not so much 
an infidel to be annihilated as a counter in the diplomatic 
game, as indeed he had been at least since the alliance between 
Francis I of France and the Sultan in the second quarter of 
the sixteenth century, the internal politics of European countries 
were still dominated by the belief almost universal in the 
desirability of religious conformity, for political reasons if for no 
others. It was in this age after all, that the French religious 
compromise enshrined in the Edict of Nantes broke down. 
In cancelling his grandfather's guarantee to his Protestant 
subjects in 1685 and in sharpening the persecution against 
them, Louis XIV not only exacerbated European suspicions of 
his intentions abroad but contributed, in the long run, to 
widening the gap between the French monarchy and important 



16 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

classes among his subjects. So too, the persecution that befell 
the Jansenist element within the Catholic fold was not without 
its political effects. 

The religious issues were consequently now fought out for 
the most part within the framework of the several states, rather 
than internationally. The failure of Louis XIV to make good 
his efforts to sustain a Catholic Stuart dynasty on the English 
throne might be regarded as a postscript to the wars of religion 
properly speaking. In the second half of the eighteenth century, 
this change is marked by the almost total effacement of the 
Papacy as a factor in European politics, and by the expulsion of 
its militia, the Jesuit order, from successive States at the behest 
of their Catholic monarchs, a process culminating in the dissolu- 
tion of the order by Clement XIV in 1773. The renewed 
emphasis upon religion after 1789 as a counterweight to the 
godlessness of the French Revolution marks not only a new 
phase in the history of religious sentiment, but in many coun- 
tries, a new era in the perennial problem of Church and State. 

This new phase is, of course, linked with an even wider 
reaction against many of the dominant cultural attitudes of 
the enlightenment a reaction to which the name romantic is 
often loosely attached. From this point of view and from others 
as well, it can be argued that the period that begins roughly in 
1660 ends not in 1815, but a generation earlier. It has, indeed, 
been traditional to take the American and French Revolutions as 
a major dividing line in European history. But the implications 
of this tradition have not always been appreciated. It was in 
fact based upon a conviction easier to hold fifty years ago than 
today, that the essential process of modern history has been a 
process in the direction of greater democracy, meaning by this 
the more widespread participation of the masses of the people in 
the regulation of their political affairs. From this point of view, 
the previous period, the period of the anden regime was 
above all to be regarded as an age of class privilege in which the 
keys of power, both economic and political were firmly gripped 
by restricted social groups, landed or urban oligarchies, under 
whose selfish domination the many were ruthlessly exploited for 
the benefit of the few and whose cultural creations were to be 
seen as merely a veneer over the depths of primitive poverty and 



THE AGE DEFINED 17 

ignorance. The main historical interest of the era looked at in 
this light was in the accumulation of discontent, and in the 
development of new social forces and new systems of belief, 
under whose combined assault the older systems of power 
eventually crumbled. The American and French Revolutions 
were important not only for themselves, but in the example that 
they provided for others to follow. The fate of all empires was 
prefigured, it was thought, in the downfall of British dominion 
in America, and that of all monarchies in the collapse of the 
French Bourbons. 

In our longer perspective such a view may seem superficial. 
Although the democratic principle has continued to make 
strides not only in the western world, but even in those parts of 
the globe that were in the eighteenth century only just begin- 
ning to fall under western influence, the principle itself has 
undergone many changes of interpretation, and has aroused 
violent and at times successful reactions. The ideas and 
programmes that the eighteenth-century revolutionaries believed 
to be indissolubly connected with the democratic principle 
have proved by no means so simply inter-related. 

The famous triad of revolutionary France, "liberty, equality 
and fraternity", has failed to preserve its hypothetical unity. 
It is hard to see that liberty (as eighteenth-century thinkers 
would for the most part have defined it) has made important 
advances except in limited areas, and for limited periods of 
time. Equality after the French Revolution made gigantic 
strides in the social sense. It took only two generations to 
uproot from the Continent the predial serfdom that had for 
centuries provided the base of a relatively rigid class structure, 
enshrined in law as well as in custom. But economic inequality 
was actually fortified for a time by the impact of the new 
industrial order, before provoking the mighty egalitarian 
reaction of our own day. Finally, fraternity has found little 
or no scope among the conflicting nation-states, empires and 
races that have battled for hegemony or survival in the nine- 
teenth and twentieth century worlds. 

The movement towards a theory of economic individualism, 
in the second half of the eighteenth century, whether under the 
"legal despotism" postulated by the French physiocrats or in the 



18 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

more liberal guise given to it by the Adam Smith school was 
relatively short-lived. The basic social doctrine of the preceding 
era, the complex system of State intervention and control 
known as mercantilism, that seemed so totally discredited not 
only by the arguments of its critics but by events themselves, 
re-emerged in a new guise at the end of the nineteenth century 
and became the accepted canon in practice, if not in theory, 
for the most benevolent and respectable of governments. 

Indeed from our own point of view, as has been suggested 
earlier, the century before the French Revolution is of special 
significance precisely because of the development of govern- 
mental techniques that were to be appropriated by the successors 
of the absolutist regimes that created them. Ever since Tocque- 
ville's Anden Regime that is to say for almost a century 
it has been a platitude of historical writing to point out that 
the French monarchy by its levelling and destroying tendencies 
paved the way for the achievements of Revolutionary and 
Napoleonic France, that the institutions of modern France, 
most of which appear to date from that era, represent only an 
adaptation of the earlier practices of monarchical absolutism. 
That absolutism was limited partly, as Tocqueville saw, by the 
existence of intermediary powers in the shape of privileged 
classes or centres of local autonomy, but also because of the 
fact that outside of those groups through whom power was 
actually exercised, its reliance had perforce to be upon a passive 
obedience that could not easily, or for long, be brought to 
undergo major sacrifices for public ends. These restraints 
disappeared when loyalty to the State was given a new warmth 
by its identification with a community. Rousseau's notion of 
the "general will" has been the butt of logicians ever since the 
Social Contract first appeared; but within a generation of his 
death the reality of the concept in practical politics was being 
dramatically and conclusively affirmed by the conduct of 
Revolutionary France, and in the struggle against France of 
other national groups. Democracy, it was found by 1815, could 
call forth energies that no absolute monarch had been able to 
utilize for long; and subsequent history has seen governments 
consistently exploit this fact. French conscription and the 
British income-tax, the two great weapons of the modern State 



THE AGE DEFINED 19 

were both creations of the 1790s. The "Age of Absolutism", as 
we have defined it, comes to an end only to give way to the 
new age of "Democratic Absolutism" that is our own. 

With this in mind, it may be seen that to choose for con- 
sideration the period 1660-1815, and to call it the "Age of 
Absolutism", indicates an intention to concentrate upon the 
development of political and administrative institutions, upon 
the social forces that contributed to their development, and 
upon the presuppositions that underlay, consciously or not, 
their creation and employment. Since the period after 1789 
involves so much besides, and since it is in its own right the 
most studied and most familiar of all periods of European 
history, it will be dealt with here largely by way of postscript, 
by way of an attempt to show the prolongation into it of the 
tendencies of the preceding age an age not only further 
removed from us in time, but one whose atmosphere is much 
harder to enter into, and about which historians still have much 
to learn. And even here, we shall be forced to concentrate upon 
the years 1715-89 during which the institutions of monarchial 
absolutism reached the culminating point of their development. 

If we look back over the century and more of European 
history that end for the diplomat with the four peace treaties 
of the mid-seventeenth century the Peace of Westphalia in 
1648, the Peace of the Pyrenees in 1659 and the Treaties of 
Oliva and Copenhagen which ended the northern wars in 1660 
its striking feature is the complexity of the forces that were 
in armed conflict. The phrase, "The wars of religion" turns 
out to be only a name for a struggle whose participants included 
political organizations of all types and sizes from city-states to 
the multi-national empires of the Habsburgs or the Turkish 
Sultans, as well as national groups, social classes and religious 
organizations whose loyalty was to themselves in the first place, 
and often to themselves alone. 

It becomes clear that despite the well-established habit 
of talking of the "new monarchies" of the late fifteenth and 
early sixteenth centuries, the political world of the next hundred 
and fifty years still showed the deep imprint of a feudalism that 
had nominally ceased to exist. The Middle Ages did not 
suddenly come to an end because an Italian sailor in Spanish 



20 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

service made landfall in the West Indies, or because a renegade 
German monk hurled defiance at Pope and Emperor. 

The characteristic feature of feudalism, and of the Middle 
Ages, the intimate association of political power with the 
ownership of land showed considerable powers of survival. The 
petty autocracies of the Imperial knights of Germany lingered 
on as living reminders of the fact, just as the shadowy preced- 
ence accorded to the Imperial title lingered on after the power of 
its holders, the Austrian Habsburgs was reduced to that which 
they could exercise in their own hereditary lands. 

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the modern idea 
of political sovereignty, the notion that over every man and 
every foot of ground, there must exist some single supreme 
authority was still something to be argued and fought over 
rather than the underlying presumption of all political action. 
Our ordinary technique of printing maps with a separate colour 
for each country can be very misleading indeed when applied 
to earlier ages, if one tries to draw from it conclusions about 
the relative strength of the units thus apparently comparable. 
The process by which maps of this kind came to be a faithful 
representation of the facts was still incomplete in 1660 in 
most of Europe, and in parts of Europe was scarcely complete 
until the drastic tidying-up of the Napoleonic era itself. 

It was a process, however, that had been given an important 
impulse by the acceptance, as a foundation of the European 
religious settlement that general exhaustion had made essential, 
of a principle, first adumbrated in Germany a century earlier, 
that of cujus regie, efus religio. This is usually interpreted as 
permitting each Prince to determine the religion of his subjects, 
and to compel uniformity by the sanction of expulsion. As such, 
we have noted its use by Louis XIV. On the other hand it was a 
principle that could work both ways. A would-be ruler might be 
forced to adopt his subjects' religion as Hemy IV of France had 
done in 1593, as Frederick Augustus of Saxony was to do in 
1697 in order to become King of Poland as Augustus II, and as 
the Stuart Pretenders to the throne of England were to refuse 
to do, to the credit of their consciences but the permanent 
blighting of their hopes. From the political point of view what 
mattered was that if it was for the State to decide how the 



THE AGE DEFINED 21 

individual should conduct his relations with the Deity, it was 
difficult in logic to deny it powers in matters less important. 
Thomas Hobbes was perfectly right in thinking that the main 
challenge to Leviathan sprang from the counter-claims of the 
Church. 

Other claimants to political allegiance had also suffered 
during the wars; and the decline of urban-life along the old 
transcontinental trade-routes, particularly in Germany, had 
removed an important potential rival to the territorial Prince. 
The territorial Princes could now be recognized universally as 
competent to answer for the peaceful intentions of even their 
mightiest subjects; and the peace-settlements were based upon 
this conception of their position. It is therefore not hard to see 
why it is from these treaties of the mid-seventeenth century 
that the States-system of modern Europe essentially derives. 
Later wars were fought to modify these decisions; and later 
treaties embodied the modifications. Even the great upheaval 
of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars did not sweep away 
this structure though they refashioned and simplified it; 
and when the short lived creations of Napoleonic statesmanship 
in Germany and Italy passed away, the foundations of the old 
order remained for the Congress of Vienna to build upon. 

But one must not forget that this consolidation of the 
position of the territorial sovereigns as against each other, 
did not imply in itself a full measure of authority in other 
respects. Nor, of course, can one describe it as though one were 
concerned with the modern impersonal nation-state. During 
the Thirty Years' War the sentiment of nationality had not been 
altogether absent; but the national group as such was not 
recognized in public law, and neither Czechs nor Catalans (to 
name two of the vanquished national groups) found independent 
representation in the final settlement. And even the State, 
apart from the monarch or dynasty, was still something of an 
abstraction over most of Europe. 

Between 1660 and 1789, the important Powers forming part 
of the European states-system were all monarchies with the 
exception of Venice, and (to some degree) of the Netherlands, 
where the Stadtholders of the House of Orange retained their 
unique and anomalous position until the death of William III in 



22 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

1702 and regained it in 1747. The system was therefore one 
which except in Poland presupposed as its foundation the 
hereditary rights of monarchs, and was thus still bound up with 
all the contingencies of individual life. In such circumstances, 
the political map of the western world was tributary to the 
accidents of the family relationship. 

It is true that rules of succession within the different 
dynasties had been established for centuries in some cases; but 
except where there was a direct male heir, their prescriptions 
might differ even in the different dominions owing allegiance to 
a single sovereign. Since th^ fecundity of their subjects was 
rarely shared by the ruling houses, and since royal children were 
not immune from the high infant death rate of an unsanitary 
epoch, occasions for conflict were frequent and a constant 
temptation to the ambitious. 

The failure of direct male heirs first to the Spanish, and 
then to the Austrian branch of the House of Habsburg, in 1700 
and 1740, precipitated the two major European conflicts of the 
whole period before the Revolutionary wars. In the years after 
the death of Louis XIV, the whole course of French and 
European politics was affected by the rivalry between the 
French Regent, the Duke of Orleans, and Philip V of Spain, the 
two prospective claimants to the French throne should 
Louis XV not survive his sickly infancy, and by the efforts of the 
Emperor Charles VI to obtain through the adherence of the 
Powers to the Pragmatic Sanction a guarantee that the Austrian 
dominions might pass as a whole to his daughter. 

Nor was dynasticism easily uprooted. In England which had 
led the world in the beheading of kings, the fiction of abdication 
was required to make the Revolution of 1688 respectable, and 
the non-juring schism in the Anglican Church showed how 
uneasy consciences could be about departing from the hereditary 
principle even when the lawful claimant was a Catholic. Until 
after 1745, the Jacobite danger was or seemed to be a political 
reality and the "age of Walpole" may easily be misunderstood if 
this is not appreciated. From 1714 until 1837, a common Crown 
linked the fortunes of Britain and Hanover. On the Continent 
the principle was even stronger. Napoleon's Habsburg marriage 
was testimony to his appreciation of its vitality; and dynasticism 



THE AGE DEFINED 23 

was the core of the notion of legitimacy with which the states- 
men at the Vienna Congress sought to repair the ravages of the 
great usurper. 

The essentially competitive nature of the dynastic system 
drove the monarchs along the road which was to lead to their 
ultimate destruction. Their objective internally was bound to 
be that of creating an ever greater measure of efficiency. The 
fate of Poland still a Great Power in 1660 was a reminder of 
what might happen should the social or political foundations for 
such efficiency prove absent. But to create efficiency meant 
to organize and institutionalize their loyal power to build up 
an impersonal bureaucracy, to complete the process by which 
the Court shed responsibility for the practical as distinct 
from the ceremonial functions of kingship, to develop a 
financial system by which the revenues necessary for public 
purposes should no longer be inseparable from the private 
income of the king, considered simply as a landowner in other 
words to assist in the birth of the modern State. And the modern 
State has no need of the hereditary absolute monarch. 

Such a consummation was foreseen, if only dimly, long 
before the Revolution itself. In France, after the death of 
Louis XIV, the king and the court Versailles and all it 
stood for seemed ever more separate from the productive and 
active centre of French affairs at Paris. As d'Argenson 
administrator and statesman as well as philosophe wrote 
"absolute monarchical government is excellent under a good 
king; but who will guarantee that we shall always have a Henry 
IV?" Montesquieu the greatest thinker on political matters 
of the first half of the eighteenth century denounced in 
classic passages the weaknesses and vices of courtiers. From 
his time, although direct attacks on the person of the monarch 
are still debarred, it is clear that the notion of the State is 
replacing that of the Crown. "Today," wrote a French diarist of 
the period the Abbe de V6ri in 1779, "hardly anyone would 
dare to say in Parisian circles: 'I serve the King*. That would be 
left to the high flunkeys of Versailles. 'I serve the State': 'I have 
served the State'; that is the common expression." And not 
only "State" but with it "Nation" pass into common usage at 
this time. 



24 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

The idea of "Nation" is older than the idea of "State". 
But when the affairs of the nation were being carried on to 
its satisfaction by the monarch, there was no occasion, it 
seemed, to appeal to it directly. National sentiment, of which 
there are plenty of literary expressions in the sixteenth 
century for instance, was politically, a reserve force to be 
called on only in time of need. Such a moment seemed to some 
Frenchmen to have come in the later years of Louis XIV, when 
the European coalition that his ambitions had called into 
being against him, seemed to menace the French homeland 
itself. In August 1710, F6nelon, the former tutor of the Duke of 
Burgundy, heir to the throne, and the brain of the aristocratic 
opposition, wrote to the Due de Chevreuse one of its leaders: 

"Our misfortune arises from the fact that the war has 
hitherto been the affair of the king alone who is ruined and 
discredited. It must be made the real affair of the whole body 
of the nation. ... It is necessary that there should be spread 
throughout our nation an intimate conviction that it is the 
nation itself that in its own interest bears the burden of this 
war. ... It is for her to find the resources and to raise money 
wherever it can be found." 

In such a passage as that, is foreshadowed the dynamic appeal 
of nationalism in the wars of Revolutionary France. 

But to take the development of the State and the changes in 
political sentiment, as well as in political structure, which this 
involved to be the main theme of our study demands from 
the beginning a word of warning. Neither in this respect nor 
in any other can we speak of eighteenth-century Europe as a 
single unit. In western and central Europe, the aristocratic 
classes and the cultures they patronized stood for a certain 
internationalism; and the circulation of ideas in restricted 
circles especially the latter half of the century reached as far as 
St. Petersburg. But the development of institutions and of 
sentiments, though not unaffected in one country by what was 
happening in another, was bound to vary profoundly according 
to the different economies, social structures, legal traditions and 
national outlooks of the several peoples. The idea of a single 



THE AGE DEFINED 25 

process varying only slightly in speed from one country to 
another is as much of an illusion in the period which we are 
considering as it has proved in the nineteenth and twentieth 
centuries. Indeed the later history of the Continent can hardly 
be understood unless these historic singularities are appreciated 
at their full value. Talk of European union that was inter- 
mittent in the eighteenth century from the Abbe de St. Pierre at 
its beginning to Immanuel Kant at its end had little meaning, 
because of the toughness of this substantial bedrock of diversity. 

Reference has been made to the importance of the manifold 
religious divisions of Europe, Equally significant in the long 
run was the difference in economic and social experience as 
between one part and another, equally significant, but much less 
known. It is only very recently that the statistical information to 
whose manifest imperfections reference has already been 
made, has been brought together for the purposes of economic 
historians. Only within the last few years have the new tech- 
niques of economic analysis been applied to the questions of 
wages and prices in the pre-industrial era. And the geographical 
distribution of such investigations in still a very uneven one. 

The general nature of the regional divisions of the Continent 
is, however, fairly clear. The decay of the German cities 
other than Hamburg is not the only example of the fact that 
economic decline a relative as well as an absolute notion is 
as significant as economic advance. Indeed for an Englishman or 
a Dutchman, the difficulty is to realize how exceptional was the 
nature of their countries' commercial ascent in the latter half 
of the sixteenth, and earlier half of the seventeenth centuries, 
and the consequent advance in their social and political life 
of a commercial bourgeoisie. So far from the position of the 
bourgeoisie improving in the remainder of Mediterranean and 
Western Europe, it would be correct save perhaps in France, to 
talk of a strengthening of the landed nobility at its expense. 
The great days of the Italian city-state as well as of the Hanseatic 
and other German cities were over how far is fifteenth-century 
Florence recognizable in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany or the 
Medici banker in his Grand-Ducal descendant? Even in France 
which shared in part in the profits of this earlier commercial 
and industrial revolution, a city like Lyons had seen better days. 



26 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

Although Bordeaux and Nantes grew on the profits of sugar 
and slaves, and Marseilles on the Levant trade, as one left the 
coasts of the English Channel and the North Sea one passed 
outside the radius of mercantile supremacy. 

Still sharper was the division between western and central 
Europe as a whole and eastern Europe, where commercial life 
had always been restricted and where indigenous middle- 
classes had hardly developed. In Europe west of the Elbe the 
economic trends of the age worked in favour of the growth of a 
cash nexus between landlord and tenant, between owner of the 
soil and tiller, and against the continued exaction of personal 
labour services. England was an exception in the early and total 
collapse of villeinage; elsewhere right up to the Revolution, the 
issue was undecided, and progress uneven. But, by and large, the 
disappearance of labour services and with them of the legally 
inferior status that they carried was the dominant process. 
Personal freedom was becoming the normal thing. To revive an 
unfashionable nineteenth-century terminology, the movement 
of western European society in the latter half of the seventeenth 
century and in the first half of the succeeding one was a move- 
ment from "status" to "contract", or if one prefers it, from 
castes to classes. 

But in eastern Europe for a variety of reasons, some 
economic as in the granary of the Vistula basin, some political 
as in Russia the tendency was precisely the contrary one. The 
cultivator was attached ever more rigorously to the soil; 
peasantry became almost synonymous with serfdom, social and 
political power was the monopoly of those who could command 
the services of this depressed majority. So far, from a ladder 
of advancement tempering the inequalities between the classes, 
the structure became more, not less, rigid. Indeed to the 
barriers of caste might be added barriers of nationality. As 
in conquered Bohemia or expanding Hungary, or still swollen 
Poland and Turkey the speech and even the religion of the 
dominant minority might differ from that of the toiling mass. 
And even a third division might be added where yet another 
foreign element Jews in Poland, Germans in the cities of 
Danubian Europe came in to perform those middle-class 
functions, for which the aristocracies were too proud, and the 



THE AGE DEFINED 27 

rural masses too illiterate and too depressed. Unless this 
dramatic contrast between East and West is appreciated, there 
is no beginning of understanding either this period or its 
successors. 

In conclusion, it must be admitted that in talking of Europe 
in the Age of Absolutism by itself one is doing violence to 
historical reality. By 1660 the conflicts of the European 
sovereigns had long had repercussions outside the geographical 
limits of the Continent. The speed of discovery since the great 
maritime advance of fifteenth-century Portugal had been 
uneven, and the exploitation of such discoveries even more so. 
Central and Southern America, the eastern seaboard of North 
America and what is now Indonesia had all felt a major impact 
from European expansionism. The great conflict for the North 
American interior was only just beginning. India itself and the 
slave coasts of Africa were affected to a lesser extent. But little 
difference had been made to the world as yet, by the Russian 
"conquest" of Siberia, or the arrival of Muscovites on the 
shores of the Pacific. 

Nevertheless, the importance of these territories, and of 
the contest for their political control that was to form the 
backcloth to European history properly speaking, were not fully 
realized in this period. Major resources were still reserved for 
use nearer home. Private adventure curbed by the State at 
home still had elbow-room in other continents. For the crusad- 
ing baron of the Middle Ages or the condottiere of the Renais- 
sance, one must look in the eighteenth century to Englishmen 
and Frenchmen in India. Only slowly did some of the States of 
Europe catch up with their new opportunities and new responsi- 
bilities. The dwarfing of Europe, particularly of western Europe, 
that is the major historical phenomenon of our own generation, 
could hardly be foreseen when it seemed that the rest of the 
world was Europe's for the taking. From our present viewpoint, 
much eighteenth-century history is a bit parochial. 



CHAPTER II 

THE EUROPEAN SCENE: 1660-1789 

OF all forms of history, diplomatic history is the least profitable. 
Volumes have been filled with the complicated series of negotia- 
tions punctuated at intervals by wars, and of wars only 
temporarily interrupted by treaties, that go to make up the 
outward story of international or rather inter-state relations in 
the last century and a half of the ancien regime. Our concern 
with these transactions lies in two directions: the changes in the 
map of Europe and its overseas possessions brought about 
by war, and registered by treaty, and the effect of war and 
its burdens upon the internal structure of the states concerned. 

The period between 1660 and 1789 affords one of the 
classic instances of a states-system, based upon an accepted 
condition of permanent rivalry between independent political 
units; and as has already been seen, contemporary reflections of 
a more or less Utopian nature upon the desirability and prospects 
of perpetual peace bore little relation to contemporary realities. 
War was throughout, regarded as the normal method of 
settling disputes. Its largely professional character and the 
consequent limitation upon the proportion of national resources 
devoted to it, as well as the lack of ideological fervour among 
the combatants, prevented the emergence of the haunting fears 
of earlier and of more recent times, that the outcome might be 
the total destruction of civilization. War did not prevent the 
rapid growth of population that set in, as has been seen about the 
middle of the eighteenth century, nor some measure of economic 
advance. There was nothing to parallel the great devastation of 
the Thirty Years War. 

The endemic character of warfare in this age was partly, 
perhaps, a result of this relative lack of destructiveness, and 
of the fact that contemporary developments in weapons, and in 
strategic theory, made armies slow-moving and costly caravans 
not lightly risked far from their bases of supply, and rarely 

28 



THE EUROPEAN SCENE: 1660-1789 29 

hazarded in decisive engagements. Only in the last decades of 
the ancien regime did developments in weapons and in military 
doctrine pave the way for the Napoleonic transformation of 
warfare by armies whose cadres (like Napoleon himself) owed 
their training to its schools. But this relative innocuousness, 
though it may explain why less time was needed to recover from 
war, does not itself explain its causes. One contributing factor 
was, no doubt, the subordination of economic life generally 
speaking to the requirements of States even a critic of mer- 
cantilism like Adam Smith gave defence priority over 
"affluence". Economic policies were calculated on a beggar-my- 
neighbour basis, the possession of territory at home or overseas 
being regarded as giving exclusive rights to the exploitation of 
its economic resources. Monopoly and protectionism were at 
once the causes and the weapons of conflict In the second place, 
there was a development of the social phenomenon known as 
militarism. By this is meant the connexion of war, and of 
preparation for war, with the interest and prestige of particular 
social groups, excluded by choice or necessity from other 
occupations. And this was true in different degrees of the 
landed aristocracy over most of Europe. Indeed the experience 
of previous generations might well suggest that the most likely 
result of a cessation of outlets for external warfare, would 
simply be to ignite the flames of civil strife. 

Like the Italy of the fifteenth century, Europe in the "Age 
of Absolutism" fought its wars with the aid of professional 
armies. But these were now more firmly interlocked with the 
machinery of the State which was, indeed, very largely occupied 
with problems of their recruitment, training and maintenance. 
The standing army on land was a comparatively new thing, and 
even when still partially recruited from foreign sources, like 
Britain's "Hessians" in the War of American Independence, it 
was thoroughly subordinated to the purpose of the rulers. A 
military career could not now bring independent political power 
irrespective of birth. There were no more international captains 
to sell their swords and their power of raising men to the highest 
bidder, though the sale of recruits was not unknown as a 
method of raising revenues by the lesser German Princes and 
the Swiss. The career of a Wallenstein could no longer make 



30 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

kings and emperors tremble; although the Balkan exploits of the 
Habsburgs' best general Prince Eugene of Savoy were some- 
times ascribed by contemporaries to personal ambition, and in 
India, a Clive could still carve out a fortune with his sword. 

At sea, the picture was rather different, with the privateer 
still continuing to play an important role in war time. The heavy 
expenses involved in keeping up a standing navy on the British 
model were not always regarded as worth while, even by so 
wealthy a country as France, which after the naval defeat of 
La Hogue in 1692, tended more often than not to rely on the 
prowess of its privateering commerce destroyers. 

For the next century sea-power except in the Mediter- 
ranean made itself felt in the struggle for overseas empire, 
rather than in Europe. Its results can be chronicled briefly. 

During this earlier period, when sugar from the West 
Indies was still the most important rival to the spices of the 
Orient among Europe's imports from overseas, the British 
maintained their important foothold in the Caribbean Sea; the 
French (and to a lesser extent the Dutch and the Danes) did 
likewise. The result was that Spain and Portugal lost their 
chance to keep as their own preserve, their mainland Empires in 
Central and South America. In North America, the British 
thrust from the cis- Appalachian coastline finally broke through 
the attempted French encirclement linking the mouths of the 
St. Lawrence and the Mississippi. By 1763, the whole Continent 
seemed to lie open to British expansion, except for the rather 
inchoate northward prongs of Spanish penetration from 
Mexico. 

In Asia the device of the chartered company somewhat 
muffled the reverberations of the conflict, where the home 
governments were concerned. But in the last resort, perhaps, 
Clive's triumph over Dupleix was due to a greater appreciation 
in Britain than in France, of the significance of the Indian 
theatre. And with the defeat of Dupleix, France's opportunities 
of Indian Empire received a final setback. In Indonesia and 
Ceylon the Dutch were still ensconced in the positions won from 
the Portuguese pioneers. In Africa alone, no decision was 
reached in this period. All the maritime and colonizing nations 
still traded along its coasts for the products of the interior, in 



THE EUROPEAN SCENE: 1660-1789 31 

particular for the human cargoes upon which the valorization 
of much of their American dominions depended. The Dutch 
retained their position at the Cape of Good Hope as a station 
on the route to the Indies. 

But the later importance of these decisions was still not 
realized and it was (outside Britain at any rate) the changes in 
the political control of European countries with their denser 
populations, their compact civilizations and developed economies 
that were regarded not unnaturally by contemporaries as the 
most important consequences of the struggles between dynasties 
and States. Nor were such changes unimportant for the people 
whose allegiance was affected by the redistribution of debated 
lands, or by the accession of new dynasties with new interests 
and affiliations, or for later generations. For these peoples 
when they came later on to embrace the doctrine of national 
self-determination, found that they had inherited a political 
map of Europe much of which might seem to have been drawn 
with the express purpose of frustrating their ambitions. 

Bearing in mind what has been said about the limitations of 
political geography in an age before the consolidation of State 
power, and about the inadequacy of population statistics, it is 
nevertheless desirable to give some reminder of the geo- 
graphical layout of Europe at the opening of our period in 
1660, 

The Bourbon monarch of France, Louis XIV, who had just 
attained his majority, found that his compact and fertile 
territories gave him the greatest accumulation of power in the 
hands of any single monarch. His subjects at home numbered 
perhaps nineteen or twenty millions a level at which the 
population of France had according to some opinions been 
relatively stationary for three centuries, but which was actually, 
it appears, to decline to about 18,000,000 in 1710, as a result 
of war, famine and disease. Even so, the numerical predomin- 
ance in Europe of the French people is as important for the 
understanding of the Age of Absolutism as their cultural 
leadership which was certainly not wholly unconnected with it. 

The Spanish branch of the House of Habsburg, France's 
principal rival in the wars just ended, ruled over a land whose 
population was generally thought to be in decline, and which 



32 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

may perhaps have numbered only about 5,000,000, compared 
with the 8,000,000 of its sixteenth-century golden age. In 
addition to Spain proper, other important territories owed 
allegiance to Philip IV. These were: on France's north eastern 
frontier, the Spanish Netherlands, covering a rather larger area 
than the modern Belgium and Luxemburg, and further south 
another portion of the old Burgundian inheritance, the Franche- 
Comte; in Italy, the Milanese, the Kingdom of Naples and 
Sicily, and the island of Sardinia; and in America, the vast 
empire, source of Spain's wealth, and as some would argue, of 
its political and economic decline by the sapping of its produc- 
tive energies, and the unbalancing of its economy through the 
effect of its excessive imports of specie. 

When Philip IV died in 1665 to be succeeded by the four- 
year-old Charles II, the prolongation of whose sickly existence 
to 1700 upset all reasonable expectation, there began the long 
struggle, military and diplomatic, for the succession. The 
Franco-Spanish "War of Devolution" in the 1660s, the Franco- 
Dutch war in the 1670s, the War of the League of Augsburg 
which lasted for a decade from 1688, and finally after Charles's 
death, the War of the Spanish Succession, properly so-called 
all these are related to the central determination of the French 
to prevent anything like a revival of the unitary Habsburg 
dominion of the sixteenth-century Emperor Charles V, and to 
secure new acquisitions on all their borders. The peace-treaties 
of Louis XIV's reign: Aix-la-Chapelle (1668) Nimwegen (1678), 
Ryswick (1697), Utrecht (1713), and Rastatt (1714) mark suc- 
cessive stages in the achievement of some of these objectives. 

The French war (1672-8) against the United Provinces 
(the modern Holland) comes into this picture, as does the Dutch 
participation in the later wars under William III, and through 
Heinsius' collaboration with Marlborough. This is because soon 
after the Dutch had achieved their independence of Spain, it 
began to be clear that it was the French rather than the 
Spaniards who now presented a danger to them, despite the tradi- 
tional link between the Republican (or anti-Orange party) and 
a pro-French foreign policy. The maintenance of Habsburg 
sovereignty in the Southern Netherlands (the modern Belgium) 
as a barrier against French encroachment was thus a major 



THE EUROPEAN SCENE: 1660-1789 33 

Dutch interest. And when in 1714 the country finally passed 
from Spanish to Austrian rule, a literal barrier in the form of 
fortresses paid for by the Belgians, but garrisoned by the Dutch, 
remained a feature of the European strategic and political scene. 

The exhaustion caused by the long European wars following 
upon the earlier maritime conflict with England, and the 
burden of trying to maintain their position were to help cause 
the Dutch to sink in the course of the eighteenth century, to a 
secondary status among the Powers. But in 1660, this small 
country of 2,000,000 was, thanks to its commerce and its banks, 
its navy and its dykes, an unmistakable Great Power capable 
of standing up to England in one decade and to France in the 
next. It was to Holland that moralizing economists turned for 
lessons in what we now call productivity ; and it is to the Holland 
of that period as mirrored in its arts, that we look for the model 
of the urban bourgeois civilization of the age a sober contrast 
to the brilliant flamboyance of the French court. It was this 
people whose protestantism, republicanism and commercial 
success made them particularly odious to Louis XIV, as the 
representative of Catholicism, divine right monarchy and 
martial chivalry with all its wanton extravagance. 

England, the other maritime Protestant power had (includ- 
ing Wales) a population at this period of over 5,000,000 and 
reconquered Ireland about 1 ,000,000 more a population whose 
religious and national animosity to the conquerors made it 
scarcely a political asset. Scotland, though owing allegiance 
to the same royal house was politically and economically a 
separate unit, as it remained until 1707. Its 1,000,000 or so 
inhabitants did not, until after that date, share in the rising 
prosperity of their southern neighbours; and not until after 
the suppression of the "Forty-Five" were the Highlands 
brought fully within the orbit of the central government, and 
the anachronism of their social structure swept away. 

The other principal power involved in the struggle for over- 
seas empire was Portugal which in 1665, finally repulsed Spanish 
attempts to prolong a dominion over it that had lasted unbroken 
from 1580 to 1640. From this period dates Portugal's close 
association with Great Britain for whom it provided in the War 
of the Spanish Succession, as again a hundred years later in the 



34 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

Napoleonic era, a possible backdoor for entry into western 
Europe. The eighteenth-century English Whig could pledge the 
downfall of the Bourbon monarchies in bumpers of port, while 
the taste for claret once the mark of England's long abandoned 
rule over Gascony, remained to cheer the Tory advocates of 
peace with France. But Portugal itself with its 2,000,000 
inhabitants no longer possessed the elan that had made its 
history in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries so full of enter- 
prise and adventure; it was in 1660 despite the growing wealth 
of Brazil a Power quite clearly of secondary rank. 

The only country which could have competed with France 
by virtue of its population was Germany, the number of whose 
inhabitants in 1660 perhaps exceeded the 20,000,000 mark, 
despite the losses of the Thirty Years War. But after the Peace 
of Westphalia, Germany with its 300 virtually independent 
sovereignties of all sizes, was more than ever a geographical 
expression without seemingly, any marked sense of common 
nationality to counterbalance its political incoherence. The 
nominal pre-eminence of the Holy Roman Emperor was more 
shadowy than ever, now that the Peace of Westphalia had given 
both France and Sweden a say in the Imperial Diet, in virtue of 
their German conquests. For positive co-operation from the 
Princes, the Emperor's only serious recourse w#s individual 
bargains; it did not promise much. 

The Emperor himself and the election of the heir to the 
Austrian Habsburgs was a foregone conclusion so long as the 
male line endured owed his own position to the lands that he 
held by hereditary right: Austria proper, Bohemia, Silesia and 
such part of Hungary as was not under the Turk in 1660 a 
comparatively narrow strip. In all, at that date, he ruled over 
perhaps 6,000,000 or 7,000,000 people. When the Emperor 
Charles VI died in 1740, leaving only a daughter Maria Theresa, 
Charles the Elector of Bavaria, with the support of France and 
Spain conquered Bohemia and secured election as King by the 
Bohemian Estates, in defiance of their pledges to Maria 
Theresa, and in 1742, election as the Emperor Charles VII. But 
without the Habsburg lands, the title itself was meaningless. 
After Charles's death in 1745, the Imperial title was conferred 
upon Francis of Lorraine, Maria Theresa's husband; and it 



THE EUROPEAN SCENE: 1660-1789 35 

passed from him to their son Joseph II. The ambition of 
Charles VI to leave the Habsburg lands undivided to his 
daughter which had inspired his seeking the assent of the 
European powers to the "Pragmatic Sanction", by which he had 
tried to forestall an appeal to the ancient so-called "Salic Law" 
against female succession, had thus been fulfilled except for 
Prussia's conquest of Silesia. But the outcome was a Habsburg 
not an imperial triumph. When therefore in 1806, Francis II 
(Joseph IFs nephew) declared the Holy Roman Empire at 
an end after 1,006 years of continuous history, and continued 
to reign as Francis I, hereditary Emperor of Austria, the title he 
had adopted two years previously, he was merely accepting a 
fact which the Napoleonic reshaping of Germany had made 
obvious, namely that the Imperial title had long been a meaning- 
less and embarrassing shadow. 

Of the Emperor's nominal vassals in 1660, four were 
considerable territorial sovereigns. The Elector of Brandenburg 
ruled over perhaps 2,000,000 people in his scattered dominions 
which included, besides the nuclear domain of Brandenburg 
and its adjacent lands, important territories in the west of 
Germany, and in the east, the Duchy of East Prussia, over 
which Poland had but recently renounced her suzerainty, and 
which was separated from the rest of Germany by a broad belt 
of Polish land. Saxony, Bavaria and Hanover each had at this 
time between one and two million inhabitants. Each of them 
was to have a separate and contrasting fate in the eighteenth 
century: Saxony through its dynastic connexion with Poland, 
after the choice of its Elector as King of Poland in 1697; 
Hanover through its dynastic link with England from 1714, and 
Bavaria as the most consistent standby of French diplomacy in 
its endeavours to frustrate the plans of the Habsburgs. 

Brandenburg whose ruler was crowned King of Prussia in 
1701 was the only one of these German states to achieve the 
status of a Great Power. French patronage was partly respon- 
sible for its early successes; but in 1756, the famous reversal of 
alliances linked France with its old enemy, Austria, against the 
rising menace of a Prussia now allied to Britain. 

Poland whose decline was inherent in Prussia's rise still 
contained in 1660 vast territories stretching from the mouth of 



36 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

the Vistula and the coastline of the vassal Duchy of Courland, 
to within striking distance of the Black Sea outlets of the 
Dnieper and Dniester, where it faced the Tartar vassals of the 
Turks. The population of Poland probably numbered over 
6,000,000, and has been reckoned at over 11,000,000 on the eve 
of the partitions. But it was neither racially homogeneous nor 
politically stable. Polish expansion eastwards in the late 
sixteenth and early seventeenth century as the eastern arm of 
the Counter-Reformation had extended its rule over Orthodox 
peoples. Conversion had been largely confined to the land- 
owning classes except for the compromise enshrined in the 
Uniate Church in its southern territories, where allegiance to 
the Pope had been achieved at the price of considerable conces- 
sions to local custom in liturgy and discipline. A reviving Russian 
State would not have far to look for pretexts for intervention; 
and the fight on the eastern marches between Catholic and 
Orthodox was to be renewed in the eighteenth century with the 
chances in Russia's favour. 

The constitutional difficulties of the Polish State were in- 
separable from the economic dominance of the landowners, 
who had managed to preserve both an elective kingship, and a 
Diet in which any attempts at serious centralization could be 
checked. This double handicap was too much for any Polish 
king to hope to overcome. 

Poland and Brandenburg-Prussia, and by the end of the 
seventeenth century, Russia as well, were all rivals of the 
Scandinavian Powers in the tangled politics of the Baltic area, 
upon whose southern coasts a predominantly Germanic 
aristocracy ruled a medley of peasant peoples of Slav and 
Finno-Ugrian stock. With the decline of the German Hansa, 
local predominance seemed destined to pass to the territorial 
powers of the Baltic littoral; but there were also the interests 
to be considered of the two North Sea maritime powers, 
England and Holland, for whom the products [of the Baltic mines 
and forests were the main source of the materials out of 
which their vessels were constructed. Only when the later 
eighteenth century saw a growth in the supplies of these things 
that Britain in particular, could obtain from across the Atlantic, 
did Baltic politics become of less acute importance to the West. 



THE EUROPEAN SCENE: 1660-1789 37 

And not till after our period was over, did technical develop- 
ments reduce the Baltic to its modern status of an inland sea. 

Even in the seventeenth century the possibilities of domin- 
ating the entry to the Baltic and of exacting dues the "Sound 
dues" from its users, were what gave its importance to the 
poor and thinly populated kingdom of Denmark (which included 
Norway). Sweden with its 1,500,000 inhabitants had probably 
a rather larger population than Denmark; and it had emerged 
from the Thirty Years War and from the northern wars of the 
mid-century, with considerable accessions of territory. In 
1660, the Swedes ruled Finland, the whole southern coast of the 
Baltic east of the mouth of the Dvina, as well as Western 
Pomerania and its off-shore islands, which gave control of the 
River Oder. By holding on to another strip of land between the 
mouths of the rivers Elbe and Weser, Sweden also retained a 
window on the North Sea. 

In the East, the vast territories of Russia were still cut 
off from both the Baltic and the Black Sea, and faced to the south 
and south-east a long-debated frontier land where Cossack 
colonies and Tartar tribes were both dependent on their own 
skilled savagery rather than on the far off rulers at Moscow 
and Constantinople. Russia's population may have been about 
8,000,000 perhaps in 1680, by which time the Ukraine east of 
the Dnieper and most of White Russia had passed from Polish 
to Russian rule by the truce of Andrusovo. 

Even less statistical information is forthcoming about 
she Ottoman Empire. Turkish rule in 1660 lay thinly but 
oppressively over the whole of the Balkan peninsula and the 
Hungarian plain, and eastwards to the Dniester, over the 
Crimea and the shores of the sea of Azov, as well as over the 
whole of the eastern and nearly the whole of the southern shores 
of the Mediterranean. 

Of the historic names of the European peoples, one does not 
appear on the map at all. Italy even more than Germany was a 
geographical expression. The 11,000,000 or so Italians (a 
figure which rose to 15,000,000 by 1789) had no political instru- 
ment at all through which to express a sense of nationality no 
less developed than that of their neighbours. The dominant 
power in Italian affairs in 1660 was Spain which, as has been 



38 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

seen, ruled directly over much of the country. Of the other 
territorial powers, five were of more than local significance: 
the Papal states more for the unique character of their rulers 
than for their own extent or resources, Tuscany, Genoa with 
her Ligurian littoral, Savoy, already engaged in he perilous 
but profitable game of balancing its control of the Alpine passes 
against concessions from the major Powers, and finally Venice, 
still struggling to retain the scattered outpost of its former 
Adriatic, Ionian and Aegean empires. 

It has already been pointed out that the half century after 
1660 was dominated by the ambitions of Louis XIV. The wars 
which these ambitions set in motion became entangled with 
those that owed their origins to the conflict of the two principal 
contenders for Baltic supremacy, ultimately Charles XII of 
Sweden and Peter the Great (Peier I) of Russia, and with the 
long drawn out conflict on the frontiers of Turkey. For this 
reason the next suitable point for surveying the map of Europe 
is the year 1721 when a temporary halt to the fighting had been 
called by the treaties of Utrecht (1713), Rastatt (1714), Pas- 
sarowitz (1718), Stockholm (1720) and Nystadt (1721). 

France had something to show in the shape of gains from 
Spain: Franche Comte and part of the southern Netherlands and 
in addition much of the Imperial territory of Alsace was by now 
also French, including the important city of Strasbourg. Spain 
now under a cadet branch of the House of Bourbon had lost the 
remainder of the southern Netherlands to the Austrian Habs- 
burgs who retained them, as has been seen, in something less 
than full sovereignty, owing to the barrier fortresses accorded to 
the Dutch, and the servitude of the closing of the Scheldt 
imposed upon the Belgians so that Antwerp should not compete 
commercially with the ports of Holland. Spain had also been 
evicted from the Italian mainland, and had been replaced by 
Austria whose domination in the north was to endure (apart 
from the Napoleonic interlude) until the Risorgimento and the 
creation of united Italy. After a complicated series of transac- 
tions, the island of Sardinia passed to the Dukes of Savoy in 
1720 bearing with it a royal title; and acquisitions in Piedmont 
by the same grasping dynasty faintly foreshadowed their later 
dominant role in the peninsula itself. Finally to England, Spain 



THE EUROPEAN SCENE: 1660-1789 39 

had lost both Gibraltar and Minorca (the latter to be recovered 
ultimately in 1783), and had thus provided British sea-power 
with its first permanent bases in Mediterranean waters. 

In dynastic terms it might seem that the House of Bourbon 
was the great gainer from these changes, despite the victories 
of Marlborough and the gloom that overshadowed the last 
years of Louis XIV. But since Philip V had been forced to 
renounce his claim to the French throne at the price of his 
Spanish one, and since the French Regent was determined to 
see the renunciation upheld, relations between the two branches 
of the family were far from cordial at first. And although the 
Regent's death in 1723 removed this element of difficulty, it was 
not until the Family Compact of 1761 that the two branches of 
the family linked their fortunes and those of their countries in 
a manner that survived up to the Revolution. 

From the territorial point of view, the profit by 1721 had 
gone to the Austrian Habsburgs. For, in addition to the gains in 
the Netherlands and in Italy, there had been mighty strides in 
the East. The whole of Hungary and Transylvania, most of 
Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia, and part of Wallachia had passed 
from Ottoman to Habsburg rule. In 1684, the ancient Republic 
of Ragusa on the Adriatic accepted Habsburg suzerainty. But 
there was to be a great ebb from the high tide of Passarowitz 
before the advance was resumed. Venice, too, had made a 
striking advance at Turkish expense in Dalmatia. But this was 
offset by the Turkish conquest of Crete. 

Against the Russians, the Turks had been more fortunate, 
since the Russians found it difficult to consolidate their military- 
gains and failed to establish themselves in Peter's reign upon 
die sea of Azov. Footholds gained from Persia by Peter on the 
Caspian were also to prove only temporary though they 
served to prevent a Turkish conquest there. Elsewhere the 
Russians had made important advances. The westward thrust 
against Poland had begun with the acquisitions of 1667; and if 
in 1721, there seemed no immediate pressure for further 
Russian expansion in this direction, it was largely because Poland 
under her weak Saxon kings was almost a vassal state herself. 
The collapse of Swedish power on the European mainland, of 
which there remained only a vestige in Pomerania, had also 



40 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

redounded primarily to Russia's benefit, and given point to 
the location on the River Neva, of Peter's new capital. The 
other possible beneficiaries of Sweden's decline were Prussia 
and Hanover the former's steady devotion to the extension of 
its territories having as yet brought no spectacular results. 

These changes in political geography must not be taken too 
literally as pointers to changes in relative power. Habsburg 
power was actually weaker than it had been, partly owing to 
Charles VFs increasing pre-occupation with the diplomacy of the 
"Pragmatic Sanction". In the eighteenth century, the dynasty 
was to become less and less concerned with western Europe to 
which it was linked only by the outlying Belgium, and more and 
more pre-occupied with its newly acquired non-German and 
often non-Catholic subjects in south-eastern Europe. The 
reversal of rfiles as between Poland and Sweden on the one hand, 
and Russia and Prussia on the other was also much more 
pronounced than the territorial changes would indicate. The 
Dutch apparently among the victor powers were entering upon 
a period of decline, while Spain found the change of dynasty to 
be the political equivalent of a blood-transfusion. Indeed the 
ambitions of Philip V, or rather of his Italian wife Elizabeth 
Farnese, were among the most disturbing elements in European 
politics for the next two decades. 

The 1720s were a period of alarums and excursions rather 
than of large-scale warfare. But by the following decade, the 
eighteenth century took on its characteristic pattern of endemic 
warfare with the European rivalries of France, Spain, Austria, 
Russia and Prussia inseparably entangled with the Anglo- 
French and Anglo-Spanish struggle overseas. The latter was 
still relatively quiescent during the first of the European wars 
the rather inadequately styled "War of the Polish Succession" 
from 1733 to 1738. But with the "War of the Austrian Succes- 
sion/ 9 1740-8, the "Seven Years War" 1756-63, and finally, 
"the War of American Independence" 1776-83, the two 
struggles practically merged into one. 

The history-book names of these wars conceal, in fact, a great 
deal of complicated military and diplomatic history, since few 
of the participants in any of them, remained at war throughout 
the periods thus designated. In the last of these, too, the 



THE EUROPEAN SCENE: 1660-1789 41 

non-maritime Powers were scarcely concerned. But the 
essential rivalries are not difficult to grasp. Until the "reversal 
of alliances" in 1756, the pattern was largely that of the preced- 
ing age British support of the "old alliance" (that of 1689), 
with the Habsburgs against an aggressive France and Prussia. 
For a time Prussia was Britain's main continental ally, along 
with whatever other lesser supporters a policy of subsidy might 
bring. Russia as it came further into European politics tended at 
first to be pro-Habsburg and anti-Hohenzollern. But after 
1763, the new issue of Polish partition dominated her relations 
with the Germanic powers. Thus the Anglo-French rivalry 
was (after the pacific era of Walpole and Fleury had come to an 
end in the early 1740s) the most enduring of all. Hence some 
historians write of all these events, and even of those up to 
1815 as "the Second Hundred Years War". 

The outcome in Europe by 1789 can again be traced in 
outline fashion upon the map. France continued to expand 
eastwards, adding to her possessions in Alsace, and finally in 
1766, acquiring Lorraine which had been under predominantly 
French influence for a long time previously. Its last period of 
independence had been lived out under the rule of Stanislas 
Leszczinski, father-in-law to Louis XV, and France's successful 
candidate for the Polish throne in the 1730s. The elegant 
baroque of Nancy's "Place Stanislas" remains to remind one of 
this episode in the history of a much fought-over province. 
Meanwhile, the head of the house of Lorraine, Francis, had 
been compensated with the Dukedom of Tuscany which came to 
him upon the death of the last Medici in 1737, as well as with 
the hand of Maria Theresa,, and ultimately, as has been seen, 
the imperial title. 

In 1768, France also acquired, this time from Genoa, 
Venice's great maritime rival in the Middle Ages, the island 
of Corsica of which Rousseau had just written that it would 
one day astonish the world, as indeed it did, if not in the 
way that Rousseau imagined. For the French annexation was 
only just in time to make a Frenchman by birth of the Italian- 
descended Napoleon Bonaparte who was born at Ajaccio in 
1769. 

With a population that had passed the 25,000,000 mark, 



42 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

France in 1789 was still the greatest power in Europe, though 
well surpassed by Russia as far as mere numbers were con- 
cerned. The population of England and Wales was now about 
9,000,000, of Great Britain as a whole perhaps 15,000,000. 

Austria had continued to lose ground in the west. To 
make up for the loss of Silesia to Prussia, there were only 
the gains made at Bavaria's expense in 1779. The more 
ambitious plan of exchanging Belgium for Bavaria itself had 
come to nothing, like so many of the great designs hatched 
at Vienna. 

In the Balkans, Serbia, Bosnia and Wallachia had all passed 
back under Turkish rule in the disastrous Peace of Belgrade 
(1739). The acquisition of Bukovina in 1777 hardly compensated 
the Austrians for these losses. On the other hand this province 
had the merit of linking with Transylvania the large and 
important territories acquired from Poland in 1770 and 1772. 

Perhaps 27,000,000 people in all were now ruled from 
Vienna. But the full implications of the changes can hardly 
be appreciated unless the polyglot character of the populations 
concerned is taken into account. The Czechs and Slovaks 
doubled their numbers in the eighteenth century from 
1,500,000 to 3,000,000. The Transylvanian population aug- 
mented by immigrants tripled from its 500,000 at the century's 
beginning; while Hungary's population grew from 1,500,000 to 
over 6,500,000. The latter, however, was due to the recoloniza- 
tion of the Hungarian plain after the final repulse of the Turks. 
The new colonists were by no means all of Magyar stock. 
Indeed when Austria finally had a census in 1804, of the 
6,800,000 inhabitants of Hungary only 3,500,000 were Magyars ; 
Roumanians, Croats, Serbs, Slovaks and Germans made up 
the rest. The Slavs increased most rapidly; but this did not 
hinder the consolidation of the Magyar aristocracy with its 
important consequences for the Austro-Hungary of the future. 

Meanwhile, Prussia's growth had been continuous: Silesia 
was annexed in 1740, East Friesland in 1744, West Prussia and 
other Polish territories in 1772 (the ancient free city of Danzig 
retaining a precarious independence till 1793), and Mansfeld in 
central Germany in 1780. Frederick William II, who had 
succeeded his uncle Frederick II in 1786, ruled between 



THE EUROPEAN SCENE: 1660-1789 43 

8,000,000 and 9,000,000 people; but except for the Poles, 
acquired in 1772, and immigrants such as the French Huguenots 
attracted by Frederick IFs calculated generosity, his subjects 
were all German, and in as far as German national feeling was, 
or was to become a factor, Prussia could fairly claim to rival 
Austria as its political expression. 

In Italy, after many complicated transactions, Elizabeth 
Farnese's hopes for her descendants had been amply fulfilled, 
since Bourbon dynasties ruled in the Kingdom of the Two 
Sicilies and in Parma, balancing junior branches of the Habs- 
burgs in Modena and Tuscany. The Italians whom a century of 
relative peace and some prosperity had multiplied to a total of 
perhaps 18,000,000, might seem as far from unity as ever. 
Spain with 10,500,000 and Portugal with nearly 3,000,000 
had both grown in population but events were to show that 
their apparent revival in strength had been illusory. 

The most spectacular and far-reaching change was 
undoubtedly the rise in Russian power indeed as our perspec- 
tive lengthens we may see in it the major continental develop- 
ment of the whole century. The ageing Empress Catherine 
ruled in 1789 over perhaps 30,000,000 people, only about 
500,000 of them east of the Urals. The Russian hold on the 
Baltic had been strengthened by the acquisition of Courland at 
the time of the first partition of Poland in 1772. The same event 
had given over to the rule of Moscow, the remainder of White 
Russia, to the Dvina and Dnieper rivers. 

By the Peace of Kutchuk-Kainardji in 1774, Russia 
acquired the coast of the sea of Azov and the Black Sea littoral 
between the Dnieper and the Bug, also some rather ill-defined 
rights of intervention on behalf of Orthodox Christians within 
the Sultan's domains right of a kind she had already made good 
use of in Catholic Poland. The "independence" of the Crimean 
Tartars was acknowledged by the Turks in the same treaty. This 
meant that there was no obstacle to Russia's annexation of the 
peninsula, which was finally acquired at the Peace of Con- 
stantinople in 1784* In both 1774 and 1784, renewed advances 
in the Caspian area were also consolidated; and in the latter year, 
Russia's suzerainty over Georgia was recognized by the Turks 
though it was not until the following century that the resistance 



44 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

of the mountain people was finally broken, so that the way 
was clear for Joseph Djugashvili, better known as Stalin, 
to be born a subject of the Tsar. 

The Ottoman Empire although the subject of so much 
spoliation had still a long way to go before it finally disintegrated. 
Already in 1791 the Ochakov crisis showed that Great Britain 
regarded itself as concerned to prevent the extension of Russian 
sovereignty to the point where she might become a Mediter- 
ranean power. But Poland, stripped on three sides by the 
partition of 1772 and cut off from the sea, could get no help 
from the West. Out of reach of fleets, her fate depended on the 
three mighty land-powers, Russia, Prussia and Austria. By 
the further partitions of 1793 and 1795, Poland disappeared 
from the map as an independent State. The lesson of the period 
was emphasized again when the Napoleonic revival of the State 
in the truncated form of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw failed to 
survive its author's downfall. 

Revolutionary France thus faced a Europe in which there 
were besides herself only four major Powers: Britain, the 
Empire (Austria), Prussia and Russia. Two of these, Austria 
and Russia were multinational states, and bound to cling to 
dynasticism rather than accept the aid against the Revolution, 
of the newly awakened forces of nationalism. 

But the brute facts of area and population that have con- 
cerned us in the present chapter do not in themselves explain 
the vicissitudes of power that have been thus briefly chronicled. 
Much must be allowed for technical and economic advances. 
Sweden's temporary importance as an iron-manufacturing 
country helps to explain the extraordinary seventeenth-century 
rise of that poor and sparsely populated land. In the eighteenth 
century, the iron-mines developed under Peter I in the Urals 
played their part in Russia's rise as a great power. Had Charles 
VT been successful in revivifying the overseas commerce 
of Belgium the shifting in the axis of Habsburg power towards 
the Balkans might have been delayed. 

The most important elements of changing strength lay, 
however, in the twin spheres of administration and finance. 
Upon these depended the ability of the monarchs to mobilize 
their nominal power for the stern business of war and diplomacy. 



THE EUROPEAN SCENE: 1660-1789 45 

Upon these subjects, the historian of the "Age of Absolutism* 5 
must perforce concentrate. And although the fortunes of one 
country do much to illuminate by comparison and contrast 
those of the others, enough has been said to show how funda- 
mentally different were the internal problems that they had to 
face. It is, therefore, more revealing to say something of the 
individual histories of the major Powers before looking once 
more at the impact of events that affected and indeed trans- 
formed them all. 



CHAPTER III 

FRANCE 

HISTORIANS have no alternative but to accept the common 
verdict of contemporaries that the central core of European 
civilization in the age of Louis XIV and his successors was 
the monarchy of France. As has been suggested, the pre- 
eminence of France in population and its natural wealth are, 
no doubt, fundamental to an explanation of this fact. The 
Wars of Religion and the fragmentation of political authority 
that resulted from them, had delayed the full exploitation of 
these advantages. But the tenacious and constructive genius 
of Cardinal Richelieu had done for Louis XIII what Henry VII 
of England had largely done for himself more than a century 
earlier. The rivals of the monarchic power, the old feudal 
or military nobility and the newer quasi-nobility of the lawyer- 
caste had failed in their rebellions of the mid-seventeenth 
century known as the Fronde to establish any serious check 
upon the royal authority. While Charles II of England achieved 
his restoration only at the price of a permanent shift of power 
from the Crown to the landed and mercantile aristocracy, 
Louis XIV found himself at his majority in a position to put 
into practice those precepts of absolutism that had become 
common form among political thinkers. The shifts and 
stratagems that had served Cardinal Mazarin so well during the 
King's long minority were no longer required; and the prospect 
of serious internal opposition to royal policies hardly needed to 
be taken into account. 

The secret of the French domination of the European scene 
was thus very largely political. It was to be found in the respect 
felt by lesser Princes for one who seemed to have solved the 
problems of their profession, and to be exploiting them with 
increasing returns in power and glory. But the reflection 
of this fact was to be found in the admiration accorded to 
expressions of the French genius. And as is so often the 

46 



FRANCE 47 

case, this cultural domination outlived the circumstances that 
produced it. 

The domination of French taste can be traced in architecture 
and in the visual arts. This was aided by an important emigra- 
tion of French designers and artists and by the desire of other 
monarchs to ape the French king in the physical setting of their 
courtly life as well as in the spirit of their policies. The later 
endeavours of nationally minded German historians can do 
little with the unmistakable imprint of France upon 
Frederick IFs palace of Sans-Souci. Ceremony and outward 
show were so essential and integral a part of eighteenth-century 
monarchy that to create a Versailles seemed the obvious first 
step towards acting like its master. The history of art is as 
essential to a full understanding of eighteenth-century absolu- 
tism as the history of political theory, or administrative 
institutions. 

Still more striking was the diffusion of the French language 
as the normal vehicle of international intercourse, and in many 
countries as the normal mode of expression of polite society. 
Latin which had served the former purpose during so many 
centuries had suffered one blow as a result of the Protestant 
Reformation. But it was only at the beginning of the eighteenth 
century that it began, for secular purposes, to be replaced by 
French. The Treaties of Westphalia were still drawn up in 
Latin; the Treaty of Rastatt and its successors, in French. Nor 
was the change for long confined to those treaties in which the 
French themselves participated. When in 1774, the Russians 
and Turks negotiated the important treaty of Kutchuk- 
Kainardji, both sides used French. 

Science went the same way as diplomacy. The French pub- 
lished their Journal de$ Savants in the vernacular from 1665, 
and the use of the French language spread to other countries. 
In 1743, Frederick II ordered that the publications of the Berlin 
Academy of Sciences should appear in French, since in his 
opinion academies to be useful should communicate their dis- 
coveries in a universal language. Italy, Spain and Britain 
resisted this new linguistic hegemony; but in Russia, and else- 
where in eastern and northern Europe its triumph was 
unequivocal. Indeed Catherine the Great corresponded in 



48 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

French not only with her eminent French flatterers, Voltaire and 
Diderot, but even with her fellow-German Grimm. And the 
great Russian nobles were far more at ease in French than in 
their native tongue. 

If one attaches most importance to language and to the 
literary forms that went with it, the reason is that this penetra- 
tion served not only the cause of absolute monarchy, but also 
that of its critics. It provided a ready means through which 
ideas critical of the existing social and political systems could 
be spread throughout Europe from their original forcing- 
grounds in the literary salons of Paris. The intellectual 
ascendancy of Voltaire and the "philosophes" and later of 
Rousseau was facilitated by this general access to the language 
in which they wrote. Even in so far as the new ideas were of 
English origin, their diffusion was normally possible only after 
they had first been taken up in France and assimilated into the 
body of French writing. Nor perhaps would the vaster and more 
dangerous currents set in motion by the French Revolution 
itself have had so great an impact without the preparatory work 
of intellectual diffusion under the anden regime. 

The story of cultural diffusion in this period is not a 
simple one and has some paradoxical aspects. The expulsion of 
the French Huguenots after 1685, was for instance, an important 
factor in the dissemination of scientific ideas. They provided 
a channel for the entry of French ideas into England and Prussia, 
and one finds them in Holland editing journals written in 
French, but drawing for their contents on English ideas as well. 
The fact of Italian and Spanish resistance to French penetra- 
tion was of less importance because of the general transfer to 
the North Sea from the Mediterranean of the cultural centre of 
the western world. Finally, by creating something in the nature 
of an international or rather, cosmopolitan culture, the circula- 
tion of ideas provided, between the intellectual and social 
Sites of the different countries, links of interest and feeling as 
strong, or in some cases stronger, than those of nationality. 
This was among the factors that still continued to limit the scope 
and claims of State action, so long as the anden regime endured. 
It was no accident that a vociferous claim for the recognition 
of national cultures and for the rights of national languages 



FRANCE 49 

the ideological aspect of the "romantic movement" should 
have coincided with the democratic onslaught on the institu- 
tions of the ancien regime itself. It was only then in the ferment 
of the revolutionary and Napoleonic periods that intellectual 
activity became a divisive force and that the states acquired the 
habit of utilizing it for their own purposes. Although French 
intellectual and artistic leadership was, no doubt, a source of 
pride, its conscious exploitation for political purposes in the 
eighteenth century is not obvious. The European policy of 
France, like that of less strongly based national communities, 
was still essentially an affair of the dynasty and its servants. 

The brilliance of French thought in the period may have the 
effect of leading the historian astray; for the rationale of 
monarchical absolutism was more highly developed than its 
practice. The idea of sovereignty and hence of the right to 
legislate had made progress since the publication in 1576 of 
Bodin's De la Republique which some might regard as the 
principal text of the new monarchical order. But the arguments 
in favour of absolutism to which the Englishman Hobbes had 
given a wholly secularist foundation in his Leviathan (1651) 
were more palatable to the French crown in a religious guise. 
And it is to the ecclesiastic Bossuet and to his Politique Tirde de 
I'Ecriture Sainte (written 1679, and published 1709) that we 
must look for an exposition of the foundation in divine 
right that Louis XIV claimed for his authority. 

But such theories for all their talk of absolute power were 
in a sense conservative, since legitimacy was of their essence. 
Indeed Bodin explicitly links the monarchical authority to its 
obligation to do right; and this meant in effect to respect 
private property whether in material possessions, in acquired 
rights to office, or in tide to social esteem. This limitation 
of power by law was not, of course, a novelty, but was a survival 
of an older concept of kingship and government. And even 
Bossuet's monarch is bound to act within the framework of 
the laws, though no power to see that he does so is permitted 
to reside in other hands. It was only in the course of the 
eighteenth century that political science, like the natural 
sciences, began under the impact of a new scepticism to sur- 
render the quest for final solutions in favour of the idea of the 



50 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

enlargement of mental horizons and consequently of technical 
and social progress. The later theorists of enlightened despotism, 
Voltaire and the encyclopaedists, were to claim for the monarchy 
the much wider powers which were necessary if it were to 
become a real instrument of reform and of change. 

By and large, the monarchy of the anden regime remained 
nevertheless to the end, a conservative force, assisting in the 
preservation of an extremely hierarchical society which 
permitted social ascension only along well-marked paths of 
advancement. It could gradually adapt social institutions to 
economic change by its legislative or administrative authority, 
but despite the absolutist claims of its theorists it was relatively 
powerless when it was a question of directly invading existing 
privileges, or other vested interests. In other words, the structure 
of society and the relationships between its various components, 
and between these and the Crown, were much tougher and less 
malleable than the theorists of absolutism would have one 
believe. 

These practical limitations on royal power were not without 
their contemporary institutional expression. The French king's 
coronation oath to safeguard the liberties of the Church, the 
traditional situation of the Estates, and to dispense good 
justice to all, differentiated the lawful monarch from the 
tyrant of antiquity or the oriental despot. But the King alone 
represented in his own person the common good of the realm, 
something distinct from the interests of the social classes, the 
provinces and corporate bodies of which it was composed. 
In holding to this view, at any rate in the early part of Louis 
XIV's reign, the theorists of absolutism had popular sentiment 
on their side. For the victory over the Fronde seems to have 
been a popular victory, and the tendency of the masses in 
France as in other countries so ruled, was to accept the fact that 
the King was good, and to blame all that went wrong on evil 
counsel. Nor was the hereditary principle itself subject to 
challenge. On the contrary, Bossuet could claim it as one of the 
sources of monarchical strength; for it eliminated the struggles 
between cliques and factions that characterized the history alike 
of classical antiquity and of the Hebrews of the Old Testament. 
It is true that this popular acceptance of the theory and practice 



FRANCE 51 

of absolutism was not permanent in France. At a given time, 
as a great French historian has put it; "the majority of French- 
men think like Bossuet; all of a sudden the French think like 
Voltaire; it is a revolution". And though Voltaire himself was 
a monarchist, his critical method could be used to question all 
existing institutions. 

By formal definition, the absolute monarch is one who has 
limitless means of action and is subject to no control. This 
latter idea did not, of course, mean in practice that the King 
took no counsel of others, but simply that his decision was in 
all cases final. Right up to the eve of the Revolution, the theorists 
of absolutism held that if there were any organ to which a royal 
decision could be appealed then that organ, and not the King 
would be sovereign. By this time such views were not held 
unanimously. Orthodox theorists held that a "mixed govern- 
ment" like that of England, was not a monarchy at all, but a 
crowned republic. Others in the eighteenth century, like 
Montesquieu, preferred the "mixed" to the "pure" monarchy. 
But this was a preference confined on the whole to the magis- 
trates of the "Parlements" which remained even after the 
Fronde, the repository of constitutionalist notions. By the 
eighteenth century, there existed besides the great Parlement 
of Paris, the jurisdiction of which covered a third of France, 
twelve provincial Parlements, and four other sovereign courts. 

Neither in the seventeenth- nor in the eighteenth-century 
formulations of the monarchical position is there any real trace 
of a democratic theory of sovereignty. Indeed Bossuet's notion 
of divine right is less democratic than the typical medieval 
idea of the way in which power is transmitted from God. For 
while the medieval thinkers had held that this power could be 
transmitted through the intermediary of the people, the 
exploitation of this idea by the advocates of resistance and even 
of tyrannicide during the Wars of Religion had made it highly 
suspect; and in Bossuet's scheme of things the royal authority 
is directly supported by the divine sanction. Nor in his borrow- 
ings from Hobbes, did the French writer include the idea 
of the original contract which was capable of other uses than 
those which Hobbes had put it to in the interests of absolutism. 

So great has been the mental impact of the ideas of abstract 



52 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

and inalienable rights to which the American and French 
Revolutions gave currency that despite their modern denial in 
so many quarters, a mental effort is involved in trying to 
reconstruct the political outlook of a society in whose institu- 
tions they found no expression. But it seems clear that the idea 
of individual rights, the idea of a general liberty, subject only to 
the condition of refraining from infringing the liberties of others, 
did not in fact infuse at any point the structure of the French 
ancien regime, 

There were rights that were exercised in practice and that 
were recognized the right of petition, the right of association 
for non-political purposes, subject in some cases to official 
authorization. By the standards of modern totalitarianisms, the 
France of the eighteenth century was a veritable sanctuary of 
liberalism. But there was no sanction for such liberties other 
than usage. And other aspects of the period show a much 
closer conformity between theory and practice. The lettres de 
cachet, the power of the King to order arrest and imprisonment 
without trial for an indefinite duration of time at his own 
pleasure stood out in marked contrast to the entrenchment of 
habeas corpus in English law at the same period even if this 
power was normally used only as a sanction for family discipline 
among the nobility. A similar contrast existed between the 
relative religious toleration and freedom of the press in England 
and the French insistence on religious orthodoxy and universal 
censorship; though here the hold of the government was 
partially relaxed in the course of the eighteenth century. Even 
in the fundamental question of property rights, it was un- 
doubtedly true in legal theory that in France, all that belonged 
to the Kong's subjects was at his disposal. He could therefore 
in theory, tax at discretion. It is not in the want of legal authority 
to tax that we must seek the causes of the defeat of such reformers 
as Machault, controller-general of finance from 1740 to 1754 
and of the ultimate financial failure of the ancien regime. 

The essential fact is that although the King was subject to 
no control, he normally acted according to custom and estab- 
lished law. Since the sixteenth century, at any rate, his authority 
had been regarded as expressing itself in two forms acts of 
ordinary or regulated power, and acts of absolute power or 



FRANCE 53 

absolute will. It was the same distinction that the early Stuarts 
had tried unsuccessfully to establish in England between 
"ordinary" and "prerogative" powers. 

For the smooth running of the realm, it was imperative that 
the monarchy should ordinarily keep to its normal exercise of 
its traditional powers. Otherwise it would run up against the 
opposition, not of individuals but of organized classes and 
groups. For if the rights of the individual were an as yet 
unrecognized abstraction, the rights and powers of social groups 
were still a formidable force. But it was precisely these groups 
that offered the greatest obstacle to any far-reaching changes 
in the distribution of wealth, power or esteem, and that were in 
the eighteenth century regarded in consequence as an obstacle 
to progress. Thus the sole bulwark of liberty against an authority 
that might otherwise be crushing was also the principal barrier 
to progress and in this antithesis may perhaps be sought the 
real roots of the revolutionary situation that developed with such 
speed in the generation preceding 1789. The demand for 
individual liberty played in the long run, as we have seen, 
straight into the hands of the State, since the State was the 
instrument through which the older collective caste or group 
liberties were destroyed. And the demand for equality lent 
itself with equal facility to the same process. The primary con- 
cern of the old corporate groups aristocratic, professional, 
urban or provincial was to preserve existing inequalities. 
That was their reason d'etre. The slogan of la carri&re ouverte 
aux talents the most dynamic of the slogans of the French 
Revolution was despite its democratic airs, at the same time 
the slogan most suited to the despotic authority of the State. 
Indeed the right to choose their servants irrespective of class 
and to promote them for merit alone, had been characteristic of 
all those monarchs of the past & Louis XI in France, a 
Henry VII in England who had most impressed their con- 
temporaries with their determination to achieve a genuinely 
absolute government. 

In the early part of Louis XIVs reign, these developments 
were still largely in the future. The system seemed for a time 
to have reached a stage of relative equilibrium; the royal power 
being sufficiently strong to carry out important policies of 



54 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

internal improvement and national aggrandizement without 
degenerating into tyranny, and the various aristocracies 
retaining enough vitality to provide a healthy circulation in the 
body politic. Such expressions can be only metaphorical at best; 
but perhaps they help to convey the situation as it was, and as it 
may have appeared to contemporaries at a moment when the 
clouds of civil war and foreign intervention had suddenly and 
almost miraculously disappeared. 

This happy if impermanent state of affairs had been the 
product of a long and complicated development. By the six- 
teenth century, the kiiig's r>ower of legislation which had 
originally been confined to his personal domain alone, was 
applied to the whole kingdom and limited, apart from divine 
and natural law, only by the fundamental laws of the kingdom: 
those governing the succession making it the appanage of a 
family not of an individual, and establishing the inalienability 
of the domain. In view of Henry IV s conversion, it might be 
argued that the succession to the French throne was governed 
not merely by the principle of descent through males only, but 
also by the principle that the monarch must be a Catholic. 
The Kings could not change the order of succession. In 1717, an 
edict of Louis XIV giving his legitimated sons a place in the 
order of succession was declared void. The luck of the dynasty 
prevented any test of whether the succession could be broken 
by the voluntary renunciation of its beneficiaries. The birth of 
a dauphin to Louis XV meant that Philip V of Spain, who had 
renounced his rights in France by the Treaty of Utrecht, was 
anyhow no longer the heir. The efforts of the Parlements, and 
especially of the Parlement of Paris, after 1753, to use their 
right of registering laws in order to constitute themselves the 
guardians of an assumed body of traditional law that could not 
be altered or abrogated by the royal fiat was a highly con- 
troversial one, and has, by some historians, been regarded as 
frankly revolutionary. 

As far as private law was concerned, it was normal for the 
Crown to respect the whole vast body of such law that was 
still determined by local custom. But even in this sphere, the 
royal legislative power could be called in where custom seemed 
to run contrary to public policy. In the sphere of public law in 



FRANCE 55 

all that related to the estates or classes into which the people 
were divided and in all that related to the machinery of justice 
and of government the activity of the monarch was neces- 
sarily incessant. If the machine were left alone too long so 
experience seemed to prove abuses always crept in. Delegated 
power was always turned to private profit. Reform was only 
possible from above. In the Middle Ages and in the sixteenth 
century, such reform had often at least, been undertaken in 
conjunction with the representatives of the estates themselves, 
assembled in the States-General. 

But the pretensions of the nobility during the Wars of 
Religion had rendered this institution much disliked by the 
Crown and its servants. By the time of Louis XIV's majority, it 
was a generation since the States-General had met, and it was 
not revived. Nevertheless, under both Louis XIV and his 
successor, there was a good deal of legislative activity which 
amounted at times to a sustained effort at codification. Modern 
historians of French law still point to the importance in civil 
procedure of the code of 1667, and in criminal procedure, to 
the code of 1670. 

The notion of Estates did not, however, disappear with the 
desuetude of the machinery for their representation. Indeed 
when such representation was felt necessary in 1789, it was 
the old model that was revived, even though it did not long 
survive in its traditional form, and was soon forced to accept 
the new individualistic climate by transmuting itself into a 
national assembly. The distinction between the two terms is a 
measure of the distance France had travelled. It was a prime 
task of the Revolution to turn the French nation into a single 
collectivity, divided for administrative purposes, and for 
administrative purposes only into the utilitarian and deliberately 
unhistorical divisions of departments and cantons. 

But in 1660, Rousseau and the results of his teachings 
that were thus to be exemplified, were still far in the future; 
and France presented to the observer an almost indescribably 
complex series of class and territorial divisions. The division 
by Estates was by far the simplest. Every Frenchman unless he 
was a serf and serfdom by the eve of the Revolution came to 
be a mere local survival, accounting for perhaps 1,000,000 souls 



56 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

out of a population of 25,000,000 was either a noble, or a 
member of the clergy, or the Third Estate. In addition to 
the Estates, there were the corporate bodies, the chapters of 
cathedrals and abbeys, the monastic orders, the universities 
and academies, and the various professional officials, judicial, 
administrative and fiscal, welded by the system of purchasable 
and hereditary offices into a very distinctive element in the 
body politic. Of almost equal significance were the territorial 
divisions the "pays" or provinces. Their existence reflected 
the long and turbulent history by which successive dynasties 
had built up the French monarchy round the original nucleus 
of the He de France. In some cases linguistic differences still 
recalled their previous separate existence. The royal ordinances 
still talked of the king's peoples rather than of his people; 
and where provinces had been recently annexed their peculiari- 
ties in laws and customs were upheld. The same was true of the 
privileges of the towns, where the King in many cases replaced 
the feudal seigneur from whom they had first won the right of 
independent organization and limited self-government. This 
involved accepting the r61e of the various corporate bodies 
within the towns which provided the basis for their municipal 
institution. The same respect was shown to the institutions of 
the various cities of the Empire that fell to France in the six- 
teenth and seventeenth centuries Metz, Toul, Verdun, 
Cambrai and Strasbourg. All such territorial divisions had a 
legal existence, even when they had no politically representative 
organs. But those provinces that had retained their own Estates 
The Pays (FEtats were privileged by comparison with the 
Pays & Elections where no such assemblies existed. 

On the whole the Pays d'Etats in the eighteenth century, 
were the acquisitions on the periphery of the kingdom, 
Flanders, Artois, Britanny, Navarre, B6arn and the other 
smaller Pyrenean provinces, Languedoc, Burgundy and 
Provence. Other Estates which had existed were by now 
dormant. Where the Estates survived, they gave the province 
concerned a certain position of privilege as against the rest of 
France. When the country was subjected to a new tax, they 
voted a 'Voluntary gift" instead. The Estates, and not the royal 
administration, were responsible for the assessment and 



FRANCE 57 

levying of the individual contributions: to some extent, they 
could budget directly for local matters canals, ports, roads and 
charitable and scientific purposes. Their credit unlike that of 
the Central Government remained high until the Revolution. 
The municipalities were increasingly subjected to royal 
control. It came to be assumed by the government that such 
powers as they possessed were simply delegated from the Crown. 
The element of self-government in their institutions was pro- 
gressively weakened, particularly after the system began in the 
last decade of the seventeenth century, of extending to the 
mayoralty and other municipal offices, the practice of purchase. 
Through the intendant, there was a close interaction between 
governmental and municipal powers; and one finds municipali- 
ties held responsible for assessing taxes, supervising the draw 
for the militia and for billeting troops. There was never aay 

Siestion of the French towns becoming virtual republics like 
e cities of the Empire. What was true of their laws was true 
of all local and special laws, and of the rules of all corporations 
and professional organizations; the royal power was the 
ultimate sanction and their authority derived from the assump- 
tion that they had its support. 

Although the towns were in a sense administrative units, the 
historic provinces were not. Each province whether or not it 
had its own Estates, had indeed its laws, customs and traditions 
and perhaps its local speech. But administration ignored 
it. The judicial and therefore administrative units were 
the ancient bailiwicks and seneschalships; were above them 
the seventeenth-century "generalities". In addition there were 
the ecclesiastical provinces and dioceses, the military governor- 
ships and commands, and the judicial divisions, including the 
areas of competence of the several Parlements. At no point did 
the boundaries of these different types of division coincide. 

By far the roost important division was the generality which 
formed the sphere of activity of the intendant, the key 
personality of the whole local administrative system. There were 
generalities which coincided with provinces as was the case in 
Brittany, Languedoc and Provence. But some provinces were 
sub-divided into generalities, like Normandy which had three; 
some generalities were formed by joining provinces together. 



58 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

Altogether in 1789, there were thirty-two generalities 
units too large for efficiency in the opinion of many would-be 
reformers and certainly much larger than the counties which 
were the units for the very much less intensive local government 
of England. But their extent and functions were at least clearly 
defined which was more than could be said for the heterogeneous 
and confused jumble of subordinate divisions wherein the spirit 
of local particularism and conservatism could most easily find 
support. The neat formulae of absolutism take on a new aspect 
when considered under this light. 

Earlier kings had been obliged to reckon with the possible 
opposition of both Church and nobility. The former relation- 
ship had been complicated in the sixteenth century by the 
emergence of French Protestantism, with for a time important 
backing, both socially and territorially. The concessions made to 
it by the Edict of Nantes had almost created a State within a 
State. But in the course of the century, this position had been 
whittled away to the point where Louis XIV could safely dis- 
pense with the Edict. The great majority of the people had been 
won back to the Catholic fold; and the tradition of dissent was 
substantially driven underground. But the dominant Church 
found that the monarchy was strong enough to insist upon its 
own interpretation of the proper relations between itself and 
the Papacy. And as events in the reign of Louis XIV himself 
showed, opposition to the royal wishes might result in schism. 
In the latter part of his reign, the monarch's increasing sensibility 
to the clerical influences represented by Madame de Maintenon 
whom he married in 1684, led him to throw the royal power 
heavily on the side of orthodoxy against Jansenism, and thus to 
add yet another undercurrentto thefuture tides of opposition to 
the whole absolutist system. Only the dissolution of the Jesuit 
order in France in 1764 finally ended the Jansenist controversy 
itself. 

On its side, the Church, while closely linked to the monarchy, 
did nevertheless preserve some important privileges particularly 
in the sphere of taxation, which was of great importance in 
view of the extent of the Church's landed property. The 
origins of the eighteenth-century system go back to the sixteenth- 
century bargain between the Church and the Crown, whereby 



FRANCE 59 

the clergy got both the royal protection for their lands in face 
of the covetousness of a nobility stimulated by the spectacle of 
the plunder opened to their class in Protestant countries, and 
also immunity from the ordinary forms of taxation. In return 
the Church paid a single block grant voted by a Church 
Assembly called every ten years. The grant consisted partly 
of the sum fixed at the time when such grants were first made, 
and partly of subsequent additions to it. Every time ordinary 
taxation was increased, the Church purchased its immunity by 
the promise of an additional grant. Under this system, the clergy 
got off relatively lightly in peacetime but was called upon for 
heavy "voluntary contributions" in time of war. In assessing the 
proportion of the Church's contribution to the national 
expenditure in relation to its own wealth, it has to be borne in 
mind that in what were known as the pays conquis, that is to say 
those territories added to France since the original bargain 
Flanders, Artois, Hainaut, the Cambresis, Lorraine, Alsace, 
Franche-Comte and Roussillon where about a quarter of 
the wealth of the Church actually lay, this system did not 
operate. There the clergy either paid the ordinary taxes 
vingti&mes and capitation like the nobles, or compounded 
specially. On the whole there would seem to be good grounds for 
taking the view that the Church escaped from part of the 
burden that the State could have claimed the right to impose. It 
justified this position which it retained right up until the 
Revolution by the claim that it was performing out of its own 
revenues services of a charitable and social nature that might 
otherwise have fallen to the share of the public authorities. But 
the wealth of the Church remained a potent source of anti- 
clerical incitement. 

The successful resistance of the Church to attacks upon it 
in sixteenth-century France meant as its obverse, a failure on 
the part of the nobility. The French secular landowners did not 
like their English counterparts get compensation for their 
losses through the price-revolution, by receiving an increment 
of Church lands. And their economic weakness, as well as the 
general weariness provoked by the wars of religion, must 
have assisted in the task of taming them. They discovered under 
Richelieu that their loss of local control could not be made up 



60 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

for by a veto on government at the centre. By the end of the 
fifteenth century, France had avoided the fate of Germany: she 
was to be a single country, not a jumble of independent jurisdic- 
tions. By the middle of die seventeenth century she had shown 
that she was not to be a Poland either. 

Nevertheless this weakness of the French nobility was 
relative, not absolute. It remained an important and closely knit 
class, entrenched in law as well as in esteem, and prepared 
to struggle for the retention of its privileges. Its numerical 
strength is hard to calculate; Vauban in the latter part of 
Louis XIVs reign reckoned it at 200,000 or about 1 per cent of 
the population. Another survey, on the eve of the Revolution, 
gave the number as only 78,000. Whichever figure one accepts, 
the reality of the problem it presented cannot be denied. 

Impeded by law from indulging in industrial and com- 
mercial occupations though not from emigration to the colonies, 
its younger sons could not provide a bridge with the business 
world like that which characterized the English scene. And 
even when such legislation was modified as it was in 1765, 
the prejudices of caste were too strong for the openings to be 
taken. Since the Crown suspected the nobility too much to 
employ it in the civil administration, to any large extent, its 
only fields of action were the army and the church. In peacetime, 
the French aristocracy was confronted with two unpalatable 
alternatives either to waste its substance living at Court and 
living up to the increasingly luxurious standards that Versailles 
demanded or if this was out of the question, to reside obscurely 
on the family estates, cut off from the fountain of honour and of 
profit. 

In such circumstances, the vested interest of the nobility 
in a large army, and in an army of a particular kind is easy 
enough to understand. The nobles naturally insisted upon com- 
missions for their offspring at an early age; and it was in con- 
sequence hard to insist that they got adequate training before 
they became officers in their fourteenth or fifteenth year. 
Between 1682 and 1692, special cadet companies were set up to 
train them. But Louis XIV dissolved these after the death of his 
great war minister Louvois; and although another attempt on 
the same lines was made between 1726 and 1733 it was 



FRANCE 61 

unsuccessful. In 1751, the Ecole Militaire was founded for the 
impecunious sons of the French nobles, on the initiative of the 
financier and war-profiteer P&ris-Duverney. This at first made 
little improvement; but in 1776 it was reorganized as a higher 
military academy open to the best graduates of the provincial 
military colleges the young Bonaparte entered it from Brienne 
in 1784 and began to meet the need for more advanced military 
training. 

The composition and nature of the army was also affected 
by another factor for which the existence of a privileged and 
under-taxed nobility was partly responsible, the financial weak- 
ness of the Crown itself. The creation and sale of new military 
posts was a common expedient. In 1702, Louis XIV created 
7,000 officers' commissions; and a few years later there were as 
many officers receiving pensions as on the active list. The 
increasing tendency of commissions to fall to the sons of the 
new plutocracy of the eighteenth century appeared as a threat to 
the aristocracy's important monopoly. And it was this objection 
to the increasing social weight of commercial wealth, rather than 
objection to the principle of promotion from the ranks, that 
brought about the decree of 1781, by which the military schools 
were closed to all those of insufficiently aristocratic stock. In the 
same pre-Revolutionary decades the noblesse de robe of the 
Parlements also took steps to limit access to them to those 
possessing hereditary membership of their caste. 

Nevertheless, the army list continued to be inflated. In 
1787, the French army contained 36,000 officers all drawing 
pay, but with only 13,000 on active duty. Something like 
two-thirds of these on the active list were nobles. The com- 
moners were, of course, primarily to be found in the technical 
arms where more specialized training was essential. The number 
of generals was also too large. There were over 1,100 of them in 
the French army on the eve of the Revolution, compared 
with only eighty in the rather larger army of Prussia. Finally, 
the officer-corps revealed the considerable cleavage within the 
territorial aristocracy itself. All commissions above those of 
lieutenant had to be bought; so that an officer from the petty 
country nobility, or squirearchy as it should perhaps be called, 
could hardly get his foot above the first rung of the ladder. 



62 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

On the other hand, the higher positions normally went to the 
great court families who had access to the sources of patronage. 

It has often been pointed out that by accepting the con- 
tinuation of their privileges, after they had ceased to perform 
most of the social functions that justified them, the French 
aristocracy sealed its own doom. But it is never easy for members 
of a social class to see any alternative way of life to that which 
they have traditionally followed; and even the historian with 
the benefit of knowing what was to come may find it hard to 
suggest what other course lay open. Certainly, the French 
nobles were by the middle of the seventeenth century, incom- 
petent as a class to undertake political responsibilities. It only 
required an opportunity for them to make this plain. Both 
during the minority of Louis XIV and after his death, at the 
time of the so-called aristocratic reaction under the regency of 
the Duke of Orleans, the nobility had power in their hands, and 
showed that they had no idea how to use or consolidate it. They 
had neither the legal nor the economic information necessary. 
They could neither identify themselves whole-heartedly with 
the State, nor acquire the habit of daily devotion to bureau- 
cratic routine which was the foundation of the power of the 
great servants of the monarchy such as Colbert and Louvois. 
All the schemes of Fenelon, Saint-Simon, Chevreuse and the 
rest, collapsed on the rock of this essential fact. 

The conditions after Louis XIV's death were, of course, 
exceptional. After his seizure of sole power in agreement with 
the Parlement of Paris, but in defiance of Louis XIV's testa- 
ments, the Regent reversed the monarchy's habit of governing 
through individual ministers separately responsible, in favour 
of a system of Councils the so-called polysynodie. The 
fact that they were primarily composed of nobles is sufficient to 
explain their failure- The Regent was forced to rule through 
a virtual Prime Minister the Abb6 Dubois. Following the 
financial collapse associated with the experiments of John Law 
and the Regent's death in 1723, Cardinal Fleury went back to the 
old system. When he died, twenty years later, Louis XV ruled in 
theory as Louis XIV had done, without a first minister, which 
meant a process of balancing one minister against another, with 
the King having often, a policy of his own, particularly in 



FRANCE 63 

foreign affairs. Nevertheless, the royal government was 
strong enough for the King utterly to defeat a new attempt by 
the Parlements to get their unhistorical claim to political 
authority accepted. It was only when the problem of paying 
for the American war brought about the crisis of the reign of 
Louis XVI that the structure of monarchical power could 
seriously be assailed. 

When it fell, the privileges of the aristocracy fell with it; 
and this suggests that, despite the apparent existence of an 
intermittent conflict between the Crown and the nobility, there 
was a deeper sense in which their interests were linked. This 
fact was perceived by Montesquieu and other eighteenth- 
century writers; and the action of the Crown in supporting the 
privileges of the nobility even while thwarting its political 
ambitions is evidence enough that even an absolutist monarch 
could not visualize his position as other than that of the coping- 
stone of a caste society. 

In the organization of government, the Crown had to deal 
with the claim of the great nobles to be the natural counsellors 
of the monarch, and as such to figure in his Council. The system 
perfected by Louis XIV was to meet this by differentiating 
between ti^e functions of the different types of session of what 
was still in form a single body, the Conseil d'Etat du RoL 
That this had in fact come to be a fiction is attested by the 
fact that the common usage was to talk of "councils" in the 
plural. It is, indeed, possible to follow the modern practice and to 
differentiate between councils concerned with government, in 
the sense of high matters of policy, and councils concerned with 
justice and administration. 

In Louis'XIV's reign there were three councils of the former 
kind, all of which the King attended in person. There was the 
Conseil d'Etat sometimes known as the Conseil d'en Haut 
because held on the upper floor of the palace of Versailles near 
the King's own apartment, and sometimes referred to as the 
Conseil Secret. It consisted of five or six important persons, 
known as the Ministers of State, who normally included the 
Secretaries of State for foreign affairs, the army and the navy 
and the Controller-General of finance. In addition one or two 
important nobles or Marshals might be present. The essential 



64 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

point was that members were invited separately for each session, 
so that anyone could be dropped at any time at the sole will of 
the King. It could, therefore, never consolidate itself into an 
institution on its own. It dealt with all the major matters of 
State, and in particular with foreign affairs, holding normally 
in Louis XIV's reign, three long sessions a week. 

Internal government, the supervision of the administration 
and of the courts and of the various corporate bodies rested 
with the Conseil des DepSches which met fortnightly. Here the 
King was joined by the Ministers of State, by the Chancellor, 
by those Secretaries of State who did not hold the exalted rank of 
Ministers of State, and by one or two of the legal advisers known 
as Councillors of State. This was the body that dealt with the 
affair of the Parlements in the reign of Louis XV. 

The Conseil Royal des Finances was created m 1661 after 
the disgrace of the once all-powerful Fouquet when the King 
decided that it would be safer to abolish altogether the great 
office of Superintendent of Finance. It included the Chancellor, 
a highly paid officer known as the Chef du Conseil Royal des 
Finances (often a Marshal), the Controller-General of 
finance and two Intendants of Finance as well as two senior 
Councillors of State. Its weekly meetings dealt with all matters 
regarding the levying of taxes and the royal domains and with all 
legal disputes arising out of financial questions. 

Meanwhile the sessions of the Council dealing with Justice 
and Administration had been since 1624 grouped apart under 
the designation of, Conseil d'Etat Prive, finances et direction. 
It was here that the Peers retained their right to sit alongside the 
Ministers and Secretaries of State. But in fact the work was 
done by the permanent officials attached to the Council. After a 
reorganization in 1673, these consisted of thirty councillors. 
Three of these were from the clergy and three were nobles, but 
the remainder were drawn from the hereditary official and legal 
class although these councillors were, strictly speaking, 
"commissaires" not "officiers" that is to say although they held 
their offices by nomination not as of right, or by purchase, they 
were in fact guaranteed independence and permanence. And 
their functions led on to the attainment of the highest offices, 
those of Minister or Ambassador. Another eighty officials 



FRANCE 65 

known as Masters of Requests, who formally belonged to the 
royal household, and not to the council and who had other 
duties, were nevertheless available for the council to call upon. 
These posts were open to purchase and at a high price; their 
holders belonged socially to the upper bourgeoisie, and the 
position served as a jumping-off ground for ambitious young 
men. 

The system retained flexibility, since the underlying assump- 
tion that the King could always consult anyone he wished to, 
enabled further councils to be set up when needed within the 
original framework. Thus there was the Conseil de Conscience 
in which the King and his confessor dealt with ecclesiastical 
appointments. And after 1700 there was the Conseil de Com- 
merce. Alongside this, there functioned a Bureau de Commerce 
which could summon to its deliberations, representatives of the 
municipal chambers of commerce. 

Since it was important to keep alive the notion of the 
unity of the Council, its business whether emanating from the 
various departments of State, or through petitions, from private 
citizens or corporate bodies, was addressed to it as a whole. 
It was the special function of the Chancellor, assisted by a 
series of offices and committees staffed by councillors or 
masters of requests, to sort out the different matters and direct 
them through the proper channels. One may suppose that such 
functions gave to these bodies much of the power that 
secretariats of this kind normally tend to acquire. 

Under the experiment of the polysynodie, the Regency 
Council replaced the Conseil d'en Haut. Seven other specialized 
councils were created to deal with the different aspects of 
government: ecclesiastical affairs; foreign affairs; war; navy; 
finance; internal affairs; commerce. Each was presided over 
by a Prince of the Blood or some other great noble, and was 
composed of nobles and of councillors of State. Instead of 
business going through the office of the Secretaries of State, 
it went direct to the President of the relevant council. The 
Council after discussing the matter made a proposal to the 
Regent who settled it personally or submitted it to the Council 
of Regency. This reduced the Secretaries of State, who were 
frowned upon as Louis XIV's bureaucratic upstarts, to the level 



66 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

of mere executants. But in spite of the successes of two of these 
councils, that of finance under the Due de Noailles, and that of 
the navy under the Comte de Toulouse (son of Louis XIV and 
Madame de Montespan), the system as a whole made too great 
demands upon the assiduity of the nobles; and, as has been 
seen, it did not long survive. 

But the old system never worked again as smoothly as under 
Louis XIV. Particularly in the latter half of the eighteenth 
century, it was clear that government by Council was breaking 
down. The ministers of the Crown and in particular the 
Controller-General were unwilling to put up with the inter- 
vention of the offices and committees of the Council. They 
dealt directly with the King on matters which could usefully 
have gone before it, and secured from the King and the Chan- 
cellor, decrees of the Council that had never in fact been before 
that body in proper sessions. In as far as they took advice, it 
was from consultative bodies within their own departments. 
And while the power of ministers increased, departmental 
co-ordination lagged. 

Some of the change was due to the increasing volume of 
official business ; but much of it must be put down to the personal 
characteristics of the kings. Louis XV held his Councils 
regularly but found them boring, and let his ministers hold 
informal meetings between themselves to predigest the business. 
Normally, he accepted what they did, but occasionally created 
confusion by going behind their backs. Louis XVI, though more 
industrious was unintelligent and lent himself to the views of 
successive ministers, having few opinions of his own except on 
matters of foreign policy. The defenders of absolutism had 
traditionally argued that an hereditary monarch was the best 
kind of ruler; because he would never be able to separate the 
public weal from the interest of his dynasty and would serve it, 
if only in order that the glory might rebound to the benefit 
of himself and his descendants. What they had not considered 
was that a mere intention to govern well wouldnot besufficient. 
The modern state also demanded competence and assiduity; 
these the hereditary principle failed to provide. Thus Louis XVI 
reversed the policy of Maupeou's reforming ministry in the 
last four years of his predecessor's reign, and restored the 



FRANCE 67 

Parlements which had been dissolved or set aside, in order to 
crush their opposition to it. The failure of the monarchical 
principle was the more marked because of the fact that on its 
purely judicial and administrative side where the monarch was 
not personally involved, the machinery of the Council worked 
well right up to the fall of the regime. Indeed French historians 
discern its imprint upon the organization of the modern Conseil 
d'Etat. 

The word "ministers" itself does not appear in France, in 
the modern sense in which we have been using it until the 
middle of the eighteenth century, and in official language, not 
until the reign of Louis XVI. The idea itself was also slow to 
develop. In the Middle Ages when Royal Household and 
Government were even more indistinguishable than in the reign 
of Louis XIV, there were the great officers of the Crown 
the Seneschal, the Constable and so on whose court functions 
were hardly distinguishable from their public ones. 

By the seventeenth century, the tendency was for the holders 
of these posts to be confined to ceremonial duties as a part of 
the general process of removing the great nobles from all 
positions of power. After 1627, the office of Constable was 
abolished and Louis XIV refused to revive it in favour of 
Marshal Villars after the latter's victory at Denain in 1712 
which saved France from invasion. Of the great officers indeed 
only the Chancellor survived into the age of absolutism; and it 
was from his entourage that were drawn the typical agents of 
absolutism, the Secretaries of State. 

The Ministers of State of the seventeenth and eighteenth 
centuries were the members of the Conseil d'en Haut. 
The Controller-General was usually a Minister of State, and 
the same was true sometimes of one of the Secretaries and of the 
Chancellor. 

There was usually no formal order of importance between 
the Ministers of State. Richelieu had been called first minister 
unofficially, and Mazarin was actually given that title. But 
in 1661, Louis XIV declared that he wanted no first minister. 
In fact, the senior member of the Conseil d'en Haut, Michel le 
Tellier, the Secretary of State for war, was commonly called 
first minister. Thereafter the designation disappeared until it 



68 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

was revived for the Abt>6 Dubois, and after his death for the 
Duke of Orleans. Neither the Duke of Bourbon, who acted as 
principal minister between 1723 and 1726, nor his successor, 
Cardinal Fleury ever took the title; and after the death of the 
latter in 1743, the function itself disappeared again, since the 
King ordered the principal ministers, the so-called "Com- 
mittee", the Controller-General Orry, and the Secretaries of 
State for the navy, for war and for foreign affairs, Maurepas, 
d'Argenson, and Amelot to report directly to himself. 

When Louis XVI came to the throne in 1774, Maurepas who 
had long been in disgrace was given as senior Minister of State 
what were virtually tie powers of a First Minister. And the title 
itself was once more revived for Lomenie de Brienne in 1787-8. 
Thus of the great servants of the Crown neither Colbert nor 
Louvois, nor Choiseul were ever first ministers; they all held 
office in periods when the Secretaries reported directly to the 
King, whereas it was the mark of a first minister that all matters 
should first be handled by himself. The use of the word ministry 
as it is found in France in the eighteenth century denotes no 
kind of collective responsibility; it is simply the name given 
to a number of important persons, appointed by the King and 
individually responsible to him; its essential nucleus consists 
of the Chancellor, the four Secretaries of State and the Con- 
troller-General of finance. The heads of certain other services, 
who had the right of direct access to the King, might also be 
considered as ministers of a kind, at this time. They were the 
superintendent of buildings who exercised a general responsi- 
bility in the field of arts and letters; the superintendent of 
fortifications, an office made illustrious under Louis XIV by the 
great Vauban; the secretary of the Council of Conscience, and 
the Lieutenant-General of the Paris police. The separation of 
the Court from Paris, and the tendency for the great city to be 
the focus of all forms of opposition in a century when the urban 
mob was a greater factor in politics than ever before or since, 
made the last post one of great importance. 

Precedence among the senior personages went to the 
Chancellor who was in theory and practice irremovable, as 
had been the case with the holders of all the great household 
posts. His technical function of sealing all the royal documents 



FRANCE 69 

gave him the right to advise on their contents. He was respon- 
sible for the drafting of legislation, and had in addition the 
formidable role of press censor. He supervised the judicial and 
administrative aspects of the Council's work, and the Courts of 
Law, and was the intermediary between the Crown and the 
Parlements; all these when also Garde des Sceaux. 

The four secretaryships had been established under 
Richelieu. Each Secretary of State was responsible for one 
principal department the royal household, foreign affairs, 
the navy and war. Other less important functions were dis- 
tributed between them in ways which varied from time to time. 
But in addition to the functional organization, there was also a 
territorial one, since each Secretary was responsible for a certain 
number of provinces. The Secretary for War had to look after 
the frontier provinces, and the Secretary for the Navy after 
certain maritime ones, whence ships and men were drawn. The 
importance of the French connexion with the Levant led to 
Provence falling to the care of the Secretary for Foreign 
Affairs. Although Marseilles which had a veritable monopoly 
of such commerce was relatively less important in the eighteenth 
than in the seventeenth century, because of the general upsurge 
of French overseas commerce, France remained the predominant 
country in the trade with the Levant, and exercised a corres- 
ponding influence at the Turkish court. The remaining 
provinces fell to the Secretary for the Household whose other 
duties were less arduous than those of his colleagues. 

Eighteenth-century reformers concerned with the efficiency 
of the Government, particularly in economic matters, such as 
Malesherbes and Turgot, agitated for the creation of a special 
post of Secretary for the Interior; but this post was not created 
until after the Revolution. A fifth secretaryship was actually 
created in 1771. It was held by Bertin, previously Controller- 
General, who from 1761 to 1783 was under various titles a 
virtual minister of economic affairs. But the extra secretaryship 
itself was abolished in 1780. 

It is, of course, inseparable from the general ideas under- 
lying the whole system of government that despite this depart- 
mentalization the primary duty of all Secretaries was still that of 
attending upon the King and of giving expression to his 



70 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

declared wishes in written form. All documents not of such 
formality as to require the Chancellor's seal had to be counter- 
signed by a Secretary of State, as well as signed by the King. 
Even in the case of unimportant documents a facsimile of the 
royal signature was necessary. 

The Secretaries of State were normally recruited from 
among the Councillors of State. They thus stood at the apex of 
the noblesse de robe, the hereditary nobility drawn from the 
Parlements and the royal Council which by the eighteenth 
century came to rival the older feudal nobility, and which by 
its wealth and by intermarriage became almost indistinguishable 
from it. There were veritable dynasties of Secretaries of State: 
Villeroi, Brienne, Colbert, Le Tellier, Phelypeaux, although 
the habit of conferring separate titles tends to obscure this fact. 
By the middle of the eighteenth century, the importance of 
these posts made them coveted even by members of the 
feudal nobility, the older noblesse d'epee: Choiseul, S6gur, 
d'Aiguillon. 

After the disgrace of Fouquet at the beginning of 
Louis XIV's personal rule, the finances of the kingdom were 
run by the King in his royal council of finance. It was here that 
the great figure of Colbert emerged; and he was made 
Controller-General of Finance in 1665. The position did not 
correspond with that of the old Superintendent, because the 
King retained for himself the right of authorizing all expendi- 
ture; but it was a very important one and remained so through- 
out the ancien regime. Colbert set the pattern for his successors 
by treating his fiscal responsibilities in the wider context of 
general economic policy. In the following century, the Secretary 
of State d'Argenson, whose father had been Controller-General, 
wrote that the Controller-General had two functions "that of 
intendant of the treasury and that of minister of interior 
affairs of the kingdom". Elsewhere he refers to him as "minister 
of finances and of the interior". Towards the end of the period, 
the title of Minister of Finance is in current use. 

The Controllers-General came into their office from two 
very different kinds of beginning. Most of them were already 
Crown servants, either intendants that is to say provincial 
governors, like the reformer Turgot or intendants of finance 



FRANCE 71 

such as Colbert himself. The intendants of finance together 
with the intendants of commerce, both drawn from among the 
councillors of State, formed the most important element in the 
Controller-General's department. But two celebrated finance 
ministers of the eighteenth century came to the office from 
private business. One was the Scottish adventurer and projector, 
John Law who became a Catholic in order to be qualified for the 
office of Controller-General, which he held 1719-20, before his 
"bubble" burst. The other was the Swiss banker Necker> 
whose obstinate protestantism prevented him from holding 
the office itself though he exercised its functions on two 
occasions with the title of Director-General. In his case it is 
hard to keep his private and his public capacities apart. In 
1778, during his first term of office he lent the Government 
2,000,000 livres from his personal fortune. This was still 
unpaid at the time of the Revolution and despite the efforts of 
his celebrated daughter Madame de Stael, his family did not 
recover it until the reign of Louis XVIIL 

The system of which these functionaries were the heads, 
presupposed an efficient bureaucracy which could both carry 
through major inquiries and see to the execution of the policies 
that resulted from them. The origin of the system can be 
traced back into the later Middle Ages, but its essential features 
date from the sixteenth century. From that time onwards, the 
bulk of the Crown's servants can be divided into two major 
categories, the "commissaires" and the "officiers". The essential 
differences between them lay in the system of recruitment and 
tenure. 

The commissaries held their positions in virture of royal 
commissions nominating them individually to their posts, and 
informing the public of their functions and powers in a precise 
fashion. Sometimes the commissions included a limitation as to 
time or place; but in any event they were revocable by the 
King, though only he could restrain the commissaries in the 
event of their exceeding their powers. Their numbers varied 
and tended to increase in times of trouble. When a position 
acquired permanence it could be turned into an ordinary office 
office form but this too could be gone back upon. There 
is thus a certain oscillation between commissary and officer, but 



72 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

in the latter half of the eighteenth century, the tendency is 
towards multiplying the former. The new functions of govern- 
ment of the period those of the bridge and road engineering 
corps for instance are performed by commissaries. 

The principal posts were always held on these revocable 
terms: all diplomatic and most military ones and those of Secre- 
tary of State, Keeper of the Seals, Controller-General, Coun- 
cillors of State, Governors, Intendants, Intendants of Finance, 
and Presidents of Parlements. But the division was not quite firm ; 
for there existed through the purchase of reversions or survivor- 
ships the possibility of giving such posts the hereditary and 
venal character that was characteristic of offices. It was in 
this way that the dynasties of Secretaries of State were formed. 
Indeed, Le Tellier as Secretary for War obtained the right for 
his son Louvois to succeed him as early as 1655 when the latter 
was only fifteen years old, though this reversion did not take 
effect for another eleven years. Such transactions did not 
obstruct the royal right of dismissal; but if a reversion had 
been bought the Crown had to repay the money spent on 
it if the post was not forthcoming. In fact, in the case of most 
of the commissaries men such as councillors of State or 
intendants dismissal was rare. 

The officers were much more numerous than the com- 
missaries in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and 
account for the vast majority of posts in the courts, and in 
financial and administrative organs, both central and local. 
Offices were created by edicts that specified the functions 
attached to them. Thus when an appointment was made, it was 
necessary only to name the appointee, and identify the office. 
Such appointments were made by letters of provision registered 
with the sovereign courts. Hence the holders were only 
removable for grave causes, judicially determined. The King 
could, of course, suppress an office altogether if it were no 
longer useful; but in that case he was obliged to compensate 
the holder for the loss of his rights. The officers would thus 
seem to correspond to the modem professional civil servant; 
what distinguishes the two are the twin practices of venality 
and heredity practices by no means confined to France. 

In the Middle Ages, offices had been sold by their holders 



FRANCE 73 

to new aspirants, although the tacit consent of the King was 
necessary. The idea of creating offices for the purpose of 
selling them seems to have originated with French municipali- 
ties in the fourteenth century, since they found this method of 
raising revenue preferable to the imposition of taxes. By the 
end of the fifteenth century, the monarchy had succumbed 
to their example. In 1522, a special branch of the treasury 
was set up to deal with revenues from this source. In the 
case of existing offices, their holders continued to sell them 
but part of the proceeds came into the treasury. What the 
officers found still more desirable was to make their posts 
hereditary in their own families. It was sometimes possible to 
get the King to recognize a right of inheritance; but not always; 
and the King could always revoke his consent. To resign in 
favour of one's son in one's own lifetime was also possible; 
but as with resignations in favour of those to whom a reversion 
had been sold, it was necessary to do this at least forty days before 
the holder of the post died; and this was clearly awkward, while 
exemptions from the rule though obtainable were expensive. 

It was not until 1604 that this problem was solved by an 
institution known after its projector, Charles Paulet. The 
paulette was a tax of one-sixtieth upon all offices. In return 
for this payment, the treasury's share of the selling-price was 
reduced and the rights of heirs guaranteed. There were 
originally some objections raised from the nobles in the 
States-General of 1614, since it weakened the position of 
would-be patrons, and from the Parlements in the Fronde in 
1648 but after temporary suspensions, the paulette was 
restored; and by the second half of the seventeenth century, 
the whole system was a thoroughly accepted part of France's 
institutions. The fact that it applied to quite minor governmental 
posts made it as acceptable to the lowest stratum of the 
bourgeoisie as to their social superiors. 

It will thus be seen that the letters of provision nominating 
to an office were in the eighteenth century, normally made out 
in favour of candidates who had already acquired a legal right 
to the post in question. It was still possible for the King to 
refuse a particular candidate if he lacked the necessary technical 
qualifications, such as the proper degrees, and in very special 



74 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

cases, the "owner" of the office could be made to sell it to a 
royal nominee. But the notion of private property in an office 
was unimpaired. 

From the point of view of the Crown, the main advantages 
of the system were fiscal. The King could sell new offices and 
received an income from existing ones. In times of stringency, 
holders of existing offices could be made to buy increases in 
their own salaries, or to buy up newly created ones. In fact, the 
Crown was thus obtaining from its own servants what were 
really forced loans at a rate of interest very advantageous to the 
borrower. Indeed, so high did the price of offices become and so 
low were the salaries attached, that in the end little but prestige 
was purchased. 

As a result of this system access to the higher offices was 
attainable only by the rich. And it might take several genera- 
tions for a family to get to the top of the official tree. Some 
offices carried a personal title of nobility and some an hereditary 
one; so there was no limit to ambition. Montesquieu's defence 
of the system as one inspiring industry is, therefore, not without 
foundation, and there is a genuine element of common sense in 
his view that the monarch will get no worse servants by trusting 
to chance than he would if he were to choose them himself. A 
certain element of continuity in administration was provided 
and it was a guarantee of the independence of the magistracy. 
So long as it existed it meant that service to the State was 
considered honourable. But it had its dangers. It turned 
ambition away from more adventurous fields such as economic 
enterprise. And when new offices were created for financial 
reasons, the process impoverished those who were forced to buy 
them. In other words it was from the economist's viewpoint an 
unproductive form of capital investment. Furthermore, it 
helped to consolidate the caste spirit of the official class and in 
particular of the parlementaires; and even when their claims 
to political power had been repulsed, their very existence was a 
stimulus to social radicalism. 

The complexities of the social system and the resistance 
of its privileged elements to change were most emphatically 
demonstrated in the sphere of finance. The finances of the 
ancien regime remained until the Revolution itself in a state 



FRANCE 75 

of confusion and the financial embarrassments of the Crown 
continued to grow with every new recourse to war. By 1789, 
the interest on the national debt alone was more than half 
the total expenditure and the annual deficit was not less than 
one fifth of the budget. 

The taxes themselves were many and vexatious though 
their number and vexatiousness was more striking to historians 
writing a generation ago than they seem today. The principal 
tax was the taille which was paid by commoners only. Its 
assessment varied in different regions, being either paid by 
individuals according to the external indications of their 
capacity to pay, or as a land-tax. The absence of a proper 
land-survey or register made all land-taxes highly arbitrary 
in their incidence, particularly in a period of important agricul- 
tural development such as set in from the middle of the 
eighteenth century. The capitation was theoretically a general 
poll-tax; but the clergy as has been seen compounded for it; 
and the nobility paid much less in proportion to their wealth 
than strict equality would have demanded. Thus the burden 
of this tax, too, fell on the common people. The same was true 
of the vingti&neS) a kind of income tax; for here, too, the clergy 
had compounded and the nobility paid little. Officials and 
pensioners had the tax deducted at source. In addition to the 
three direct taxes, there were a large number of indirect taxes 
including both external and internal customs: the aides, 
the excise on wine and other drinks and the much detested 
gdbette or salt-tax, the variations of which between the different 
provinces gave rise to much internal smuggling. 

The productivity of the indirect taxes was much less 
impressive than the burden on the community which they 
represented, since their collection was farmed-out, and a great 
deal of the actual income from them remained in the pockets of 
the tax-farmers. It has indeed been calculated that by 1789 
about 60 per cent of the gross revenue never reached the 
treasury at all. The failure of the monarchy to dispense with the 
tax-farmers a failure which grew out of their inability to find 
any other source for the loans with which to anticipate their 
deficient revenues was indeed of great significance. As will 
be seen, the problem of national credit was not one that 



76 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

troubled the French monarchy alone; but it represents a 
striking contrast to the imposing apparatus of borrowing 
built up by the maritime Powers, England and Holland, with 
their flourishing national banks and mercantile companies. 

The financial contrast was also an economic and social one. 
In England, the release of national energies under a govern- 
ment of very restricted claims, and of limited powers, was 
productive of an economic growth which owed far less to the 
State, than did that of France, where the system of Colbert, the 
local variant of mercantilism, was not simply a system of 
controls but also one whereby the State took an active part 
in industrial enterprise, initiating and developing projects 
for which private capital was not forthcoming. Yet by com- 
parison with Prussia, for instance, the share of the State in the 
general development of eighteenth-century France seems 
rather a negative one. It is society rather than the State, the 
unofficial rather than the official world that are the truly 
creative elements. The names that brought lustre to France 
between the death of Louis XIV and the outbreak of the 
Revolution include those of neither of its monarchs, and of 
scarcely a statesman outside the field of foreign affairs. 



CHAPTER IV 

SPAIN AND PORTUGAL 
SPAIN 

The history of government in Spain between the middle of 
the seventeenth century and the Napoleonic conquest the form 
in which Spain received the French Revolution is divided into 
three periods by the accidents of dynastic succession. The 
first consists of the reign of the last Habsburg monarch, 
Charles II, 1665-1700. His long-awaited death without a direct 
heir had been prepared for in a series of negotiations between 
the European Powers who were concerned to prevent the 
wealth, power and prestige of the Spanish Empire in Europe 
and overseas from being added as a whole either to the dominions 
of the French monarchy, or to those of the Austrian Habsburgs, 
which would enable the latter to recreate the sixteenth-century 
Empire of Charles V. These schemes broke down owing to the 
ambitions of Louis XIV, and the unwillingness of the Spaniards 
themselves to see their Empire diminished. The War of the 
Spanish Succession and the treaties with which it ended con- 
firmed, as has been seen, the principle of partition, but left the 
Bourbon claimant, Philip V (1700-24 and 1724-46) in undis- 
puted possession of Spain and her overseas Empire. The second 
period consists of the reigns of the first three Bourbons, 
Philip V, Luis I (1724) and Ferdinand VI (1746-58). In the 
course of these reigns, an attempt was made to introduce into 
Spain the administrative system of the more highly-centralized 
monarchy of France. There was a recovery in the country's 
international standing and the economic decline of the past 
century was at least arrested. With the accession of Ferdinand's 
half-brother, Charles III (1758-88) a third period was in- 
augurated. Charles who had ruled successively as Duke of 
Parma, and, since 1734, as King of Naples and Sicily, was 
influenced if only to a limited extent, by the ideas of the 
enlightened despotism current in the Italian peninsula. 
In die first part of his reign a number of Italians held high 

77 



78 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

office, and latterly a number of exceptionally able and devoted 
Spaniards. With their help, the process of reforming Spanish 
government was pushed forward and not without some result. 
But the graver maladies from which the Spanish monarchy 
suffered were not to be remedied by mere administrative 
improvements or by the marked progress in the country's 
economy. War revealed the hollowness of the financial structure. 
The disastrous reign of Charles IV culminating in his abdication 
in 1808 was sufficient proof that something more fundamental 
was needed. It was not provided. 

A major interest of Bourbon rule in eighteenth-century 
Spain is thus to be found in the attempt to apply on foreign 
soil some of the principles of centralized government to which 
the French monarchy and its servants had given such prestige 
under Louis XIV. In a formal sense, the attempt was not 
unsuccessful: Spain presented the appearance of an absolute 
monarchy, but the overall failure of its reformers suggested that 
the absolutism was more apparent than real, that the condition 
of its existence in theory was to refrain from exercising it in 
practice. It would hardly suffice to explain the failure in 
personal terms; although none of the Bourbon monarchs of 
Spain, not even Charles III was personally outstanding. Two 
foreigners Alberoni and Ripperda held power under Philip V; 
the latter was little more thao an adventurer, and most of their 
native successors, apart from Patifio, Campillo and Ensenada 
completely mediocre. The ministers of Charles III, the 
great noble Aranda, the typical bureaucrat of the new school 
Floridablanca, and its principal theoretician Campomanes, 
would all stand comparison with any of their contemporaries 
abroad. 

The weakness of Spain was not made fully apparent until 
the failure of its attempt to meet the Napoleonic challenge under 
the rule of the Court favourite Manuel Godoy, the Prince of 
the Peace and the consequent abdication of Charles IV and his 
heir Ferdinand VII in 1808. Of this Spain, the true Spain of 
the decadence, Goya has left an imperishable portrait. But the 
failure of the dynasty was inherent in the situation which 
existed when Charles IV came to the throne in 1788. 

Obstacles to success had been numerous. For almost a 



SPAIN AND PORTUGAL 79 

century before the change of dynasty, Spain had been in the 
grip of an economic decline; a falling population; chronic 
unemployment and land falling out of use. The power of the 
Crown had decreased; the great estates, the latifundia had 
grown in size and number as had the wealth of the Church. 
Financial disorder had shown itself in the chaos of the currency 
leading to alternating bouts of inflation and deflation and to 
irregular price movements. These were generally downwards in 
the latter half of the seventeenth century with the usual 
depressing effect upon business. The long drain of the wars 
civil as well as foreign culminated in the loss of the Nether- 
lands and the rest of the Burgundian inheritance as well as of 
Spain's Italian possessions. The social order and intellectual 
circumstances reflected this sorry story of Spain's decadence. 
The nobility, both the Court nobility of the historic grandee 
families and that section of it of relatively recent creation, and 
the country gentry, the latter reckoned in 1787 as 500,000 in 
numbers, one in twenty of the population, were even more 
securely entrenched in their privileges than that of France. 
Their contempt for productive occupations was even more 
marked; and this despite the almost proverbial poverty of a 
large part of the country element. 

The Spanish middle-class still more hemmed in by 
monopolies, particularly where the Indies trade was concerned, 
was much weaker than that of France. In 1717, the Casa de 
Contratacion, The India House, was moved from Seville to the 
better port of Cadiz which had shared the American trade in a 
secondary capacity. From 1764 onwards in particular steps 
were taken to limit the monopoly of Cadiz over the American 
trade, and by the death of Charles III, the trade was open to all 
Spanish subjects and to all Spanish ports. Finally the Casa de 
Contratacton through which the trade had been regulated for 
287 years was abolished in 1790. But the new liberalization of 
the outwardly formidable if often defied apparatus of Spanish 
mercantilism came too late to have much effect upon Spanish 
life, and too late to save the Spanish Empire on the American 
mainland. 

One result of middle-class backwardness was that the sale 
of offices was a less important feature of the financial, adminis- 



80 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

trative and social system in Spain than in France. The practice 
itself went back to pre-Habsburg days and by the sixteenth 
century offices were regarded as freeholds. Philip II and his 
successors endeavoured without success to check the practice 
which their financial needs made inescapable. But the middle- 
class was too poor to provide many purchasers. Furthermore, 
since it was easier to be ennobled in Spain than in France and 
since more people were nobles by inheritance, offices were not 
sought for the titles they conferred. The higher administrative 
positions, places at Court, judgeships and army commissions 
were not saleable. On the other hand, the sale of municipal 
offices, a late development in France had been early established 
in Spain. Although these facts would seem to suggest greater 
control by the monarchy over the administration than was 
true of France, the resistance to change was very strong indeed. 
Whether this resistance reflected primarily the rigidity of the 
social structure, or certain aspects of the national character and 
religion, or whether indeed it simply arose out of the adminis- 
trative system itself, with its multiplicity of commissions and 
committees at every level, the whole designed for deliberation 
rather than action, cannot easily be determined. 

On the intellectual side, the penetration of the ideas of 
the enlightenment was met with more resistance than in most 
other European countries. In part, perhaps, it was due to the 
fact that the salons of Madrid were less successful than those of 
Paris in forming a focus for cultural diffusion: in part the xeno- 
phobia of the Spaniards made the new ideas the more suspect 
because they were foreign. The principal factor was, no doubt, 
the continued predominance of the Church. It was not for 
nothing that modern Spain was the creation of a series of cru- 
sades; that Islam, Judaism and Protestantism had succumbed in 
turn to extirpation, expulsions or forced conversion. With the 
final banishment of the Moriscos at the beginning of the seven- 
teenth century, its triumph had been complete. The only threat 
to the absolute authority of the Church came from the monarchy 
itself, and the advent of the new dynasty was almost bound to 
mean some attempt to bring it into a relationship with the Crown 
closer to that existing in France. Philip V secured a new con- 
cordat with the Pope in 1753 which was distinctly favourable to 



SPAIN AND PORTUGAL 81 

the Crown. In 1767, the Jesuits were expelled. Finally the 
Inquisition itself was subjected to some restraint and the burn- 
ing of heretics already rare finally put an end to. These measures, 
it must be emphasized were a revolution from above; they were 
not popular despite some penetration of Jansenist, masonic 
and other influences of the Enlightenment, and the Spanish 
people as a whole would seemingly have been inclined to see 
them reversed. The Church remained powerful and wealthy. 
In 1787, the clergy accounted for some 200,000 of the country's 
population: Sixty-two thousand of these were monks and 
nearly thirty-three thousand, nuns. The reign of Charles IV 
saw a reaction towards clerical obscurantism which the monarch 
did nothing to discourage. As subsequent history was to 
show the Spanish church was far more closely integrated 
with Spanish society than the French church with French 
society. Meanwhile it contributed to giving to Spain its out- 
standing quality of resistance to change in any field. 

Above all, though Spanish national unity could still be 
aroused by a foreign conqueror, particularly one suspect of 
godlessness, in ordinary times it was much less potent a force 
than local particularism, which was fortified by geography and 
by the appalling lack of internal communications. The domina- 
tion of Castille, established at the time of the country's 
reconquest from the Moors, and enhanced by its monopoly of 
access to the overseas Empire was never willingly accepted. In 
many respects it was the domination of a backward pastoral 
economy over parts of Spain with a more varied and richer life. 
Southern Spain which had depended on irrigation had perhaps 
had the heart taken out of it with the expulsion of the Moriscos. 
But Catalonia with its Mediterranean outlook and Provensal 
culture remained in a state of permanent dissidence. The middle 
of the seventeenth century witnessed one great abortive rebel- 
lion, and in the War of the Spanish Succession it was in Cata- 
lonia that the strength of the defeated Habsburg claimant had 
lain. His defeat was Catalonia's, though not Catalonia's last. In 
the north-east, the Basques and Navarrese retained traditions 
and an outlook of their own. 

In Spain, as in other European countries, both particularist 
and feudal opposition to the Crown had found expression in 



82 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

representative institutions, and the latter had consequently been 
allowed to decay as soon as the monarchs became strong enough 
to dispense with their support. In the sixteenth and seventeenth 
centuries six of the original twenty-two Spanish kingdoms now 
united under the Habsburgs still retained their own Cortes: 
Castille, Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia, Majorca and Navarre. In 
these assemblies of Estates, the nobles, the clergy and the 
towns were all represented. They had the duty of formally 
acknowledging the heir to the throne; and in the absence of any 
Spanish coronation ceremony, they took the oath of fidelity to 
the new monarch on his accession. In the past, they had had the 
power of voting on the demands for money made to them by the 
Crown. But in 1624, Philip II had levied taxes without them, 
and the Cortes had definitely passed into the background before 
the change of dynasty took place. Since the Crown was under no 
obligation to summon them regularly, and since they had no 
initiative in legislation, their position henceforward lacked 
any real sanction, at least under normal circumstances with an 
undisputed and assured succession. 

Philip V was faced with the necessity of securing popular 
support for his claims and in May 1701 summoned a general 
assembly of nobles, prelates and urban representatives from all 
the Spanish kingdoms: but this did not rank as a Cortes since 
the unity between Philip's realms was still purely dynastic. In 
1702, the Cortes of Aragon and Catalonia met and voted supplies: 
but the subsequent adherence of these provinces to the arch- 
duke Charles was used by Philip as an excuse for the final dis- 
solution of their separate institutions. Thereafter, Castille and 
Aragon including Catalonia were treated as a single kingdom. 

In 1709, a joint Cortes was held to recognize Philip's infant 
son Luis as the heir. In November 1712, the Cortes called upon 
Philip to renounce his rights in France, and in 1714 for a 
modified form of the Salic law (barring female succession) to 
govern the descent of the Crown in future. In 1724, a Cortes was 
held when Philip returned to the throne after the death of Luis 
in whose favour he had abdicated a few months earlier. In 
1760, the Cortes met to acknowledge as heir to Charles III, the 
future Charles IV. In 1789, at that monarch's behest, the Salic 
law was secretly repealed, an action which was the origin of the 



SPAIN AND PORTUGAL 83 

nineteenth-century division of the dynasty into two rival 
branches. Since the Cortes met only eight times in the whole of 
the eighteenth century it cannot be considered as having had a 
permanent place in the structure of government. The little 
kingdom of Navarre retained the traditions of an earlier age by 
keeping its own Cortes which met eleven times between 1701 
and 1801: but this was of no real political significance. 

Indeed constitutional checks of any kind were singularly 
absent from the Spanish eighteenth-century scene. What 
struck the French observer, to judge from the memorialist 
Saint-Simon who was Ambassador to Philip V in 1721-2 was 
the ability of the monarch to have his own way when he so 
desired. For normal purposes, however, the royal power was 
institutionalized. This was not done through individual 
ministers as was the case in France; for although a number of 
individual ministries corresponding to the French Secretaries 
of State and Controller-General were ultimately set up, 
Philip V's attempt to impose the French system was largely 
unsuccessful. What persisted instead was the Habsburg system. 
And the pattern of Habsburg rule in Spain, as in Austria, was 
one of conciliar government. The administration consisted of 
a number of Councils which did their work through hearing 
and commenting upon written documents, a procedure whose 
cumbersome nature was proverbial. 

Of this hierarchy of Councils, the Council of Castille which 
in 1707 absorbed the Council of Aragon was the real heart. 
Saint-Simon pointed that this single institution exercised the 
authority that in France was shared between the Parlements, 
and the whole series of political, judicial and administrative 
councils through which die powers of the French monarchy 
were exercised. "It is there," he writes, "that all public and 
private questions are taken in the last resort, that grants of titles 
are registered, that edicts and declarations are published as well 
as treaties of peace, gifts and pardons. In brief, it is there that all 
matters of public concern are transacted and that all litigation is 
terminated. Everything is reported to it, but nothing is argued 
before it; with all this power, the Council does nothing but give 
judgement" From the point of view of a Frenchman then, 
this concentration of political administrative and judicial power 



84 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

in a single institution working with all the formality of a court 
of law in the Roman tradition has an antiquated air. If one 
regards the development of modern administrative techniques 
as involving the development of distinctions between the 
administrative and the judicial spheres, and as substituting for 
deliberative bodies a clear-cut chain of command within an 
official hierarchy of individuals for collective responsibility, 
eighteenth-century Spain gives the impression of relative 
backwardness. 

Nevertheless there were elements within the system which 
gave a distinct ring of modernity. Thus because the system 
worked so largely on the basis of written reports, the function of 
rapporteur was a highly important one and the Council made it 
its business to see that the corps of rapporteurs was recruited 
in a satisfactory fashion. One could not become a qualified 
rapporteur by purchase. On the contrary, aspirants were 
obliged to pass a competitive practical examination which took 
the form of drawing up a report upon a particular dossier for the 
preparation of which twenty-four hours was allowed. 

The single undivided Council performing legislative, 
administrative and judicial functions was not characteristic only 
of the government of metropolitan Spain; the Council of the 
Indies whose history went back to the early years of Habsburg 
rule in Spain was an institution of exactly the same kind as the 
Council of Castille, and the parallel between the two adminis- 
trations continued down the scale. The same ideal of uniformity 
infused the policy of the Spanish crown in Spain and in America 
and their legislation was as identical as the differences of climate 
and race permitted. When to the ordinary faults of Spanish 
administration was added the immense distances that separated 
the source of authority at Madrid from the overseas colonies 
the irritation of the Creoles or native-born Spanish upper- 
class is not difficult to understand, quite apart from the 
rigidly mercantilist notions which governed the policies so 
administered, and which were only partially relaxed under 
Charles III. 

Of the other Councils which governed affairs at home, the 
most important in the eighteenth century were the Council of 
War, reorganized by Philip V in 1706 and 1743 and again by 



SPAIN AND PORTUGAL 85 

Charles III in 1773, and the Council of Finance. It is not 
surprising in view of the extreme financial embarrassment of the 
Spanish monarchy which was almost continuous from the 
beginnings of the Habsburg period that the latter body under- 
went even more frequent reorganization. The temptation to 
attempt to improve efficiency by administrative changes rather 
than by recasting the fiscal system, a much more difficult task, 
was always present. The Council of Finance and its dependent 
bodies underwent no fewer than ten major recastings between 
1691 and 1761, after which it remained relatively unchanged in 
form until 1803. The Council of the Inquisition was from the 
formal point of view, second only to the Council of Castille. 
By the reign of Charles III, however, it had lost almost all its 
political power, though it could still deal harshly enough with 
individuals for even the most radical of would-be reformers to 
avoid attacking it directly. 

The complications and delays of this system and of the 
provincial courts were responsible for the inordinate growth of 
the legal profession and of other agents concerned with seeing 
to the affairs of private suitors. Their task was made the more 
complicated and their existence the more necessary by the 
chaotic state of Spanish law which had of course undergone suc- 
cessive accretions since Roman times and was now composed of 
an uncharted mass of legislative edicts, compilations of customs 
and codes. Philip II had collected previous royal legislation into 
a single code in 1565, and Charles III followed his example; but 
the work was ill-done and came in for severe criticism. Navarre 
had a corpus of law no less complex. The Basque provinces had 
their general laws and municipal privileges. Catalonia, Aragon, 
Valencia and the Balearic islands, although politically absorbed 
by Castille, retained their separate systems of private law 
enshrined in numerous codes. Finally there was the separate 
legislation for the Indies. 

It must be remembered also that in Spain (as elsewhere at 
this time), the important social groups were legally recognized, 
their members consequently enjoying special privileges. There 
was in Spain not merely the distinction between noble and 
commoner, but also the special laws applicable to the clergy and 
to the military, and a wide variety of separate jurisdictions for 



86 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

members of different branches of the royal or government 
service. 

By a curious paradox, Spain which at the centre, relied so 
heavily on rule by committees and boards and whose municipal 
government was regulated in a similarly antiquated fashion, was 
where provincial and district administration were concerned a 
country of individual officials, the captain-generals, intendants 
and corregidors all endowed with remarkable concentrations of 
authority. At these levels government was at least partially 
effective despite the extraordinary variety, complexity and 
indeed confusion of its local geographical divisions. Neither 
the areas of local government, nor those subjected to the 
authority of particular tribunals, nor the dioceses, were of 
regular size or shape, nor even of comparable magnitude. The 
administrative map was a single vast palimpsest on which 
could be traced the deposit left by the varied history of past 
centuries. It was an inevitable target for all who desired to see 
reform. 

In the provinces the Captain-Generals retained their military 
authority in the eighteenth century and through their presi- 
dency of the main provincial courts, the Audiences, a general 
supervision of the administration. But as in France, the inten- 
dants were responsible for the main burden of government 
work. Originally intendants were officials concerned with the 
details of military administration. Philip V created provincial 
intendants in 1718; but this measure was cancelled shortly 
afterwards. The office was revived permanently by Ferdinand VI 
in 1749. The two classes of intendant later came to be to some 
extent assimilated to each other. The provincial intendants had 
judicial powers in their provincial capitals and the surrounding 
districts. Charles III formally relieved them of these in 1766 
in order to free them for their administrative, financial and 
military duties; but the Spanish tradition of confounding the 
judicial and administrative functions appears to have been too 
strong for him, and it is doubtful if his edict was fully carried 
into effect. 

The corregidors had, in the districts into which the provinces 
were divided, an even greater sphere of action than the provincial 
intendants, and to enumerate their duties would be to list all the 



SPAIN AND PORTUGAL 87 

functions of government at the local level* Economic and police 
duties went alongside administrative, military and judicial ones 
the last being exercised by deputy where the holder of the 
office was not a lawyer, as was the case only in certain towns. 
Generally feared and popularly suspected of greed and venality, 
the corregidor represented for the masses of the Spanish people 
the real embodiment of the power of the State. 

The power of the royal administration had increased along- 
side the decline of the self-governing municipalities which had 
played so great a part in medieval Spain. The Spanish Crown 
had carried on in most of its dominions, a long and successful 
campaign to diminish their powers by subdividing the great 
municipalities into a multitude of smaller communes, and by 
rendering municipal office hereditary instead of elective. Where 
election survived as in the Basque provinces, the mode of 
election varied from place to place. Indeed the varieties of 
municipal government provide yet another example of the 
complexities of the administrative arrangements of the ancien 
regime in Spain. It would have been natural to expect the 
reforming zeal of Charles III and his advisers to find an outlet 
in reforming and simplifying the structure of municipal govern- 
ment; but to do so it would have been necessary to buy out the 
rights of existing office-holders and the transaction was outside 
the range of financial possibility, just as the idea of removing 
them without reimbursement was outside the mental horizons of 
the period. 

Charles III did attempt, as indeed Ferdinand VI had done 
before him, to exercise some control over municipal finance, 
through the intendants, the provincial revenue officers, and 
ultimately the Council of Castille. But this control merely 
multiplied the numbers of officials and obstructed local 
initiative in public works. As later developments made clear, 
the ultimate result was likely to be the swallowing up of all 
unused municipal revenues in the bottomless abyss of State 
finance. Meanwhile the municipalities continued not only to 
deal with police and hygiene but also to enforce their extremely 
close control over such things as the supply of foodstuffs and 
local retail prices. 

Spain, it must be noted, had no tradition of laissez-faire. 



88 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

The central government had maintained a close control over 
the grain trade ever since the later Middle Ages. It is doubtful 
whether it had ever been effective in keeping down prices, and 
the new free-trade doctrines led to the abandonment of the 
maximum prices system in 1765. Other controls then repealed 
were later reimposed. Welfare services and the relief of distress, 
previously a matter for the Church or for private almsgiving, 
became in the latter part of the eighteenth century a matter of 
growing concern to the State. And lay organizations were 
formed for such purposes in the main cities with strong support 
from the Government. An attempt to compel the beggar and 
vagabond to work in return for sustenance, to introduce that is 
to say something like a workhouse system met as usual with 
popular resistance, and was regarded as a piece of police 
oppression on a par with the naval press-gang, and military 
conscription. 

Strength rather than welfare was the real principal objec- 
tive of the absolutist monarch; and Spain a country created 
largely by the sword had long been pre-eminent on the battle- 
field. The latter part of Thirty Years War had seen the end of 
this pre-eminence and Spain's decline in this respect had been 
a commonplace. To some extent, no doubt, this had been due 
to the lack of military interests on the part of all the eighteenth- 
century Spanish kings after Philip V; and even his original 
enthusiasm had waned after the successful conclusion of the war 
over the succession. Even so there were a series of wars through- 
out his reign culminating in the exhausting War of the Austrian 
Succession. In the circumstances the economic recovery of the 
reign and the half-century of stability in prices and in the 
currency in which it was reflected, though undoubtedly facili- 
tated by world conditions, makes it difficult to pass too harsh a 
judgement on the administrators of the period. The people at 
large seem, however, to have reflected their rulers' indifference. 
The educated classes preferred the Church, the judiciary or the 
civil administration to a military career and the development of 
the military art stagnated accordingly. The rule that two-thirds 
of all commissions should be reserved for cadets of the military 
colleges could not be made effective, nor was it possible to 
enforce in most regiments the old rule that cadets should be of 



SPAIN AND PORTUGAL 89 

noble birth. There was seemingly nothing which corresponded 
to the pressure from the French nobility to reserve the military 
career for their own class and in the latter part of the century 
more than half the Spanish officers were commoners. Under 
Ferdinand VI, the last eleven years of whose reign were passed 
at peace, and again under Charles III various reforms in adminis- 
tration were undertaken but the paper strength put in 1775 at 
130,000 men was believed vastly to overestimate forces which 
though including many foreigners may not in fact have totalled 
more than 50,000. In 1 803, Godoy made a final effort to remodel 
the army on French lines but had neither the strength nor the 
perseverance to impose his reforms on a nation obstructive to all 
change. 

Despite the poverty of most Spaniards there was nothing to 
attract them to the brutal life of the private soldier of that 
period and even the thin ranks of the army could not be main- 
tained by volunteer recruitment. It was virtually confined to the 
surviving foreign regiments which had now lost much of their 
former renown, and to the household troops. Charles III tried 
to organize a system of conscription with a ballot to decide who 
should actually be enrolled. But the system was largely vitiated 
by the wholesale exemptions which could not be avoided in a 
country so constituted as eighteenth-century Spain, and it fell 
with undue heaviness upon the poorest classes in society. The 
privileged provinces struggled against the system with great 
vehemence, and in Catalonia and the Basque country with 
success. Even in Castille, the law was applied with great cir- 
cumspection and produced only a small number of recruits. 
These were supposed to serve for eight years, but after the first 
year were released for an annual period of four months in 
order to assist with the harvest. The numbers were made up by 
occasionally rounding up in the great cities the vagabonds and 
other undesirable elements whose presence in the army no 
doubt contributed to its notoriously high desertion-rate. 

The most distinguished corps was the artillery, and the 
Spanish arsenals produced material of good quality although 
improvements introduced in the latter part of the century were 
primarily the result of the belated copying of French models. 
Outside the regular army proper, the Spanish Crown could call 



90 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

on the local forces of Navarre and the Basque provinces. These 
gave a good account of themselves in the French War of 1792-5. 
In Castille a considerable proportion of the population was 
organized into a militia or reserve force whose members 
received some desirable legal and fiscal privileges. But all this 
did not amount to Spain's being a Great Power on land; and 
Godoy's efforts to temporize with Napoleon can be defended as 
an inevitable product of the country's real weakness. 

Spain at sea was a different matter from Spain on land; 
there were no maritime Pyrenees, and the Empire could not 
have survived without some measure of naval strength. In fact, 
this strength had largely disappeared by the end of the seven- 
teenth century, and it was only after Philip V was securely on 
the throne that he turned to the task of reviving the ancient 
maritime power of his new country. Under Alberoni there took 
place what has been described as the renaissance of the Spanish 
navy. But the disastrous failure of the expedition against Sicily 
in 1718 destroyed almost the whole fruits of this first effort. 
Others followed, and by the time of the war against Great 
Britain in the 1740s, Spain's prowess at sea was once more 
something to be reckoned with. The problem was one of man- 
power more than of ship-building for which Spain was well- 
equipped; and measures for drawing up a seamen's register were 
set on foot in 1726. In 1737, it came into force despite strong 
local objections. In peacetime the system worked well enough, 
but to man the fleet in wartime was only possible by virtue of 
the harshest measures. The press-gang was by no means a 
purely British institution. 

In the 1750s the fleet once more declined and the Seven 
Years War saw considerable losses. But a renewed effort 
followed, and though the navy again suffered severely in the 
course of Spanish intervention in the War of American 
Independence, it was not without its successes. In the latter part 
of Charles Ill's reign, progress was resumed and a considerable 
fleet was set on foot in the war against French revolutionaries 
while Spanish privateers were also active. On the other hand, 
the country was now building ships at a faster rate than crews 
and equipment could be provided in a country lacking in both 
sailors and money. This disproportion between the size of the 



SPAIN AND PORTUGAL 91 

Spanish fleet and its effectiveness is the background to the 
catastrophic losses suffered in the war against England at 
France's side from 1796 to 1802 and then at Trafalgar. Sea- 
power is not a thing which can be improvised; it makes heavy 
and continuous demands upon a country's administration and 
finance. 

In administration, one has the feeling that one of the main 
weaknesses was that Spanish government, central as well as local, 
endeavoured to do too much; that its ambitions were altogether 
out of scale with its means. Where finance was concerned the 
picture is a simpler one. Spain was not a poor country by 
contemporary standards; but its wealth could not easily be 
tapped for the purposes of the State. Even in Spain's golden age, 
her government's record in finance was punctuated with 
bankruptcies. Spain in decline could expect no better. 

The inquiries into the national wealth which were made on a 
fairly considerable scale in 1763, 1787 and 1797 can hardly be 
looked to for statistical information, according to modern 
standards of accuracy, but there can be no mistaking the 
impression they leave of enormous inequalities in the distribu- 
tion of property and income. In the latter half of the century 
real wages declined as in other western countries. To those 
who cherish the illusion that inequality of fortunes is a product 
of the industrial revolution, eighteenth-century Spain, a country 
relatively little touched by industrial development even in the 
reign of Charles III, provides a convincing refutation. In 
particular was it true that a great part of the agricultural popula- 
tion, the overwhelming part in a province like Seville, consisted 
of landless day-labourers rather than peasants; and their lot was 
harsh indeed. Agricultural reform in the latter part of the 
century probably swelled the numbers of the urban proletariat. 

In such a social system the task of the tax-collector is apt 
to be a difficult one. The taxes appeared to be not particularly 
heavy but their burden was everywhere felt as excessive. It was 
not that the system was based on inequitable principles; the 
nobles and clergy were not exempt and indirect taxation was 
levied for preference on articles of luxury rather than neces- 
sities. The nobility avoided important transfer dues by entailing 
their estates. The use of State monopolies to increase revenue 



92 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

was so universal in Europe as to call for no special comment 
except from a British historian for whom they represent a much 
earlier stage in financial history. 

Since direct taxation was difficult to levy, as it always is 
in a largely agricultural economy, indirect taxation of various 
kinds was the main standby of the State. As successive monarchs 
had found their resources insufficient they had tried to remedy 
the situation by adding to the number of taxes rather than by 
raising their levels. As a result the fiscal system was exceedingly 
complicated and vexatious, acting as a real break upon internal 
economic development. It is not to be imagined that the 
Spanish kings or their servants were unaware of the deficiencies 
of the fiscal system. In the reign of Ferdinand VI, it was 
suggested that all internal taxes might be replaced by a single 
grain-tax levied at the mills. Ensenada, like Patiiio a bourgeois 
by origin, took the matter up and obtained from Pope Benedict 
XIV approval for a scheme by which under such a new system 
of taxation, the clergy might be taxed at the same rate as the 
laity. A great investigation was set on foot to decide the details of 
the new tax and ISO volumes of statistical material were 
assembled. Before the inquiry was complete a royal edict of 
1749 ordered that all internal taxes should be replaced by a 
single one on all forms of wealth; but it was not carried into 
effect. A similar edict for a single-tax system in Castille was 
issued by Charles III in 1770; but the forces of opposition were 
too strong and once again nothing was done. All reforms 
were bound to be opposed not only by those to whom the 
existing system gave privileges but also by the middle-class who 
saw in tie swollen fiscal machinery an endless source of 
employment for their sons. 

Philip V found that not only had his predecessors disposed 
of the greaterpart of the ancient Crown lands, once considerable, 
but had even sold in perpetuity important sources of revenue 
such as the products of particular taxes. To repurchase them 
was beyond the means of the House of Bourbon and although 
Charles III gave serious consideration to the idea he was 
forced to abandon it. Under his successor efforts were made to 
increase the burdens on the clergy, a considerable element in the 
royal budget It is typical of the conservatism of the Spanish 



SPAIN AND PORTUGAL 93 

system that as late as 1801, the Crown was still drawing con- 
siderable sums through the sale of indulgences, first agreed to 
by Pope Julius II at the beginning of the sixteenth century in 
order to aid the alleged crusading intentions of the Spanish 
Crown. 

The principal taxes were, however, in Castille the alcabala 
and millones respectively a sales tax on each transaction includ- 
ing those arising in the course of foreign trade, and an excise on 
meat, wine, vinegar, oil, soap and candles. Other commodities 
also paid a variety of excise dues. In 1785, Florida-Blanca sought 
to add to all this a sort of income-tax on rents, dues in kind, 
industrial produce and on royal privileges in private hands. 
But it proved difficult to administer and in 1794 was abandoned 
in favour of a new system of direct taxation with the specific 
object of paying off some of the State's indebtedness. The 
customs duties and taxes on wool were applicable not only to 
Castille but to the whole country except for Navarre and the 
Basque provinces which contrived to remain outside the Spanish 
customs frontier. 

The customs barrier was not merely an external one; some 
internal barriers also survived, though reduced under Philip V: 
between Castille and Valencia until 1717 and on the border of 
Andalusia until as late as 1778, when the freeing of trade with 
the Indies removed its main point. In 1783, Spain acquired its 
first general customs tariff. This followed the assumption in 
1750 by the State of direct control over the customs adminis- 
tration. Despite efforts by Alberoni to use the tariff weapon as a 
means of furthering Spain's interests, the customs which were 
farmed out had tended, it would seem, to favour the foreign as 
against the native trader. Since export duties were levied at a 
much higher rate than import duties there was also a marked 
discrimination against native industry. All this was reversed by 
the 1783 tariff, but the new system was so cumbersome 
and burdensome on the foreigner as to make the doing of 
business by foreign merchants almost impossible. Smuggling, 
long a major Spanish industry, rose to new heights of efficiency 
now that the profits to be made were more substantial 
than ever. 

The principal monopolies were tobacco and salt. The latter 



94 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

involved a high price for salt. But it was less burdensome than 
the French gabette since there were no limits on total con- 
sumption as in some French provinces and no exemptions. Even 
the clergy paid. The Spanish government had early had the idea 
of a stamp tax and a government monopoly of stamped paper 
required for all legal transactions including the business of the 
ecclesiastical courts, and even the Inquisition, went back 
to 1636. Playing-cards was another royal monopoly as were 
seven important raw materials: saltpetre, sulphur, gunpowder, 
lead, antimony, vermilion dye and lacquer. Another source of 
revenue was the royal lottery introduced by Charles III for his 
former kingdom of Naples which in turn had imitated it from 
Rome. 

Aragon though losing its political liberties after the war 
of the Spanish Succession had not been subjected to the full 
rigours of the Castillian financial system and avoided the 
alcabala and millones. Instead the Aragonese provinces paid a 
single lump sum which in turn was raised by direct taxation 
which varied in form in the different provinces but which was 
both lighter in total and less complicated to levy. In Catalonia, 
the important cloth industry was burdened with a tax upon each 
piece of stuff which had to be individually marked with the 
tax-collector's seal. Under Charles III, this was abolished in 
favour of a simple direct tax. Navarre and the Basque provinces 
retained a financial system wholly separate from that of the rest 
of Spain. 

La financial administration, the system of rule by committee 
was departed from in fact though not in theory. Formal authority 
rested with the Royal and Supreme Council of Finance, but 
during the eighteenth century power came to rest with the 
Minister of Finance and his staff. This position was attained by 
degrees. The first Superintendent-General of Finance was 
created in 1687. In 1709, Philip V appointed the Frenchman 
Orry as Controller-General and director of all financial matters. 
In 1714, a General Intendant of the Council of Finance was 
created; in 1716, an Administrator-General and in 1724 a 
Secretary of Finance. Finally in 1726, Joseph Patino united in 
his person the titles of Secretary of State and Superintendent 
of Finances. A struggle ensued between the Minister and the 



SPAIN AND PORTUGAL 95 

Council; but in 1742 the Superintendent of Finances was given 
plenary powers over the whole field. 

Below the Minister was a large organization both central and 
local for the levying and control of the revenues. Impressive in 
size and formal symmetry, it was less so in practice. This was 
largely due to the extreme corruption at the lower levels of the 
service almost inevitable in view of the poor remuneration 
received by its employees. 

The indirect taxes of Castille were levied by tax-farmers 
and Orry began an effort to rationalize their proceedings and to 
reduce the depredations of their agents. In 1741, the minister 
Campillo ordered the tax-farmers to declare their profits and 
when these were declared at a low level removed six provinces 
from their jurisdiction. In 1749 Ferdinand VI extended the 
system of direct collection to the remaining sixteen provinces. 
This by no means ended all abuses. In some localities, private 
persons levied for their own profit a whole or part of the taxes; 
elsewhere there were various forms of compounding in force; 
the sums exacted varied in the different towns and as with the 
customs, interminable delays on trade were the result of an over- 
minute elaboration of the regulations. A system of spies and 
informers did not prevent fraud so much as give rise to further 
corruption. 

The year 1692 witnessed another in the long line of Spanish 
royal bankruptcies. Philip V was faced with a seemingly hopeless 
situation. In the first year of his reign, taxation covered only 
some three-fifths of the country's expenditure. The Succession 
War and afterwards the unsuccessful Sicilian expedition and the 
wars brought on by the ambitions of Elizabeth Farnese were 
further blows to the national solvency. Nevertheless, careful 
administration by Orry and Patino brought up the Crown's 
receipts. The fiscal recovery was, of course, assisted by the 
economic revival, itself encouraged by protective devices, the 
establishment of model factories, measures to attract foreign 
artisans all suggested, no doubt, by the policies devised by 
Colbert for Louis XIV and now imported by Philip's French 
mentors, Amelot and Orry, and applied by Spaniards like 
Patiiio, Campillo and Ensenada. 

Expenditure, however, more than kept pace with growing 



96 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

revenues. In 1739, it was necessary to suspend payments on the 
State debt in order to meet the needs of the army and in 1748 
at the time of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, the financial chaos 
was at its worst. Ferdinand VI tried various expedients including 
a refusal to pay the debts of his predecessor and was assisted by 
the arrival, after the conclusion of peace, of the American 
treasure-fleets immobilized since 1742. Although much of the 
taxation of the Indies went to the upkeep of the local adminis- 
tration, the proceeds of certain taxes there and of the royal 
monopolies were earmarked for the Spanish home government's 
use. Even so and despite the interval of peace, the Spanish 
treasury was nearly empty at Ferdinand's death. 

With the accession of Charles III a new spirit entered the 
administration and it is probable that from the beginning the 
new monarch realized that a trial of strength with Great Britain 
was coming and that he devoted himself to preparing for it. 
On the economic side he was favoured by the general price 
inflation which, as already noted, meant a fall in real wages and a 
rise in profits which meant that there was capital available for 
investment in the new industries which the policies of Charles 
and his ministers were intended to encourage. In particular 
something was at last done about road-building. The manu- 
facture of cotton had begun at Barcelona as early as 1746 but it 
is from Charles's reign that the modern industrial history of 
Catalonia begins. It is probable, however, that the excitement 
of foreign travellers over these developments should not be 
taken at its face value; the social and educational backwardness 
of the country were still a major impediment to rapid progress. 

This economic revival was sufficient to lead to a new and 
major advance in the royal revenues; but expenses still ran 
ahead of receipts and under Charles IV the rise in revenue came 
to an end while the deficit grew. The efforts of Charles III to 
increase the revenue were mainly directed against the Church. 
The expulsion of the Jesuits involved the confiscation of their 
property: the income from vacant benefices was appropriated 
for an indefinite duration and the possessions of pious founda- 
tions were sold for the benefit of the treasury. Further and even 
more desperate measures were taken by his successor, at the 
expense of all classes of society. Again, however, the Church was 



SPAIN AND POHTUGAL 97 

the principal sufferer. Only the fall of the dynasty at Napoleon's 
hands in 1808 brought the process of confiscation to a halt. 

The importance of the question of ecclesiastical revenues 
in Spain's national finances at the turn of the eighteenth 
century is indicative of the relative backwardness of the 
economy and social and political institutions of the country. 
The difficulties which arose in attempting to fill, by borrowing, 
the remaining gap between revenue and expenditure are to be 
explained along the same lines. The ability to raise loans easily 
and on favourable terms was in many ways the principal achieve- 
ment of the modern State in its formative period and the state 
of public credit is not a bad index to the success or failure of 
particular polities in the age under consideration. 

Charles III raised money at home by the sale of annuities 
and abroad on the Dutch money-market, the latter in particular 
for one of his great public works the Aragon canal. A whole 
series of loans were issued both in his reign and his successor's. 
But their nominal total was not in fact reached, for despite the 
highly favourable terms offered, subscriptions could only be 
obtained by offering the loans at well below par; and even then 
many were not taken up in full. More important was the money 
procured from the existing financial institutions, the Consulates 
of Seville and Cadiz, the associations of merchants in the 
American trade, whose position was being weakened by the 
ending of their monopoly, and who were now forced in addition 
to come to the rescue of the treasury, and the five major 
Corporations or Guilds of Madrid who had in the past acquired 
through the careful use of their resources a standing which the 
State could not emulate* The exactions of Charles IV brought 
their financial structure down in ruins. 

It was the participation of Spain in the War of American 
Independence that marked the beginning of the major 
financial troubles of the reign since it led to the issue of an 
interest-bearing paper currency forced on the market by 
legislative fiat. While the war was on the value of this currency 
naturally depreciated but there was a recovery after the Peace of 
Paris in 1783, with the renewal of shipments from America. A 
further blow at financial stability was struck by the war against 
England that broke out in 1796. It is a curious comment on the 



98 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

inadequacy of the Spanish financial system and on the pervasive 
effect of Spain's adverse trade balance that although the 
mines of Spanish America provided a great deal of the currency 
in which the international trade of the period was carried on, it 
proved almost impossible in the eighteenth century to provide 
an adequate currency for use at home or even in small denomina- 
tions for the American colonies themselves. The paper currency 
did not circulate in the colonies though the colonists were taxed 
in order to redeem it and suffered from the economic effects 
of the dislocation at home. As was to be expected, there was a 
Spanish effort to do what Holland and England alone had done 
successfully, to establish a national bank with the express 
purpose of managing more economically than through 
merchant-syndicates the indebtedness of the State and for 
sustaining its credit. 

As in France it had been the Scot John Law who had been 
the prime mover, so in Spain also it was a foreigner: in this case 
actually a Frenchman, Francois Cabarrus. His proposal for a 
new financial institution was put forward during the period of 
Spain's intervention in the American war and the Bank of St. 
Charles, as it was called, was founded by royal decree in 1782. 

After a slow start, the Bank began to acquire prestige but 
it allowed itself to indulge in a series of highly speculative 
enterprises such as the very costly proposal to connect Madrid 
with the sea by canal, and an attempt to profit by the exceedingly 
low price of French government bonds in 1788. But it was 
finally the task laid upon the Bank of redeeming the floating 
debt of the monarchy that reduced it to the straits in which it 
found itself on the fall of the dynasty. The Bank of St. Charles 
emphasized the lesson which should have been learned from the 
failure of Law. The successes of the Bank of Amsterdam and of 
the Bank of England was due to the fact that they fulfilled the 
requirements of the moneyed classes of the two countries. Their 
credit maintained that of the State. In Spain as in France, no 
such external support existed and the credit of the Bank could 
in fact be no greater than that of the State which it served. 

PORTUGAL 

The history of Portugal in the century and a half between 



SPAIN AND PORTUGAL 99 

the recovery of its independence and the French Revolution 
provides an obvious parallel with that of Spain, although it was 
the France of Louis XIV that seems to have provided the most 
direct inspiration for Portuguese absolutism and its policies. 
The revolt of Portugal from its sixty years of subjection to 
Spain had taken place in 1640, but its sovereignty under the 
native house of Braganza was not recognized by the Spaniards 
until 1668 and then largely as a result of the existing inter- 
national situation, it being the price Spain paid for ending the 
close association of Portugal with France. 

Portugal was indeed incapable of an isolated existence or 
wholly autonomous development. In 1641, her ports had been 
opened to foreign traders and in 1654 a commercial treaty with 
the Cromwellian Protectorate laid the foundations of British 
supremacy in her economic affairs. Independence also found 
Portugal with a declining agriculture connected it would seem 
with a lack of man-power. Ericeira the dominant minister from 
1675 of the regent Pedro (later King Pedro II) had introduced 
protectionist legislation to supplement the sumptuary laws by 
which his predecessors had endeavoured to remedy the 
unfavourable balance of trade. The model was again clearly 
the work of Colbert in France. But as was inevitable with a 
system dependent on the shifting and uncertain will of a royal 
house so deficient in kingly qualities as that of Braganza in this 
period, nothing much came of Ericeira's projects and upon his 
death in 1 690 their development came to an end. By the Methuen 
Treaty of commerce with Great Britain in 1703, the nascent 
Portuguese woollen industry was sacrificed for the sake of the 
wine trade and for most of the remainder of the century, the 
Portuguese and Brazilian markets for English goods were an 
important factor in European affairs. The Portuguese market 
itself widened during the early years of the eighteenth century 
thanks to the influx of Brazilian gold. Portugal's colonial 
Empire had suffered during the period of the country's sub- 
jection to Spain and in the East Indies never recovered. But 
the Dutch effort to conquer Brazil as well was ultimately foiled 
by 1654 and Brazil (with the African colonies as a source of 
slaves) became the centre of Portugal's interests. Hopes that 
Brazil would be a major source of mineral wealth had been 



100 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

disappointed for a long time, and although some mines were 
known in the first half of the seventeenth century, it was only 
later that the richer seams were found and only in the 
century's last decade that a steady output was received leading 
in the next twenty or thirty years to a veritable gold-rush. 

Portugal was no more suited than Spain to cope with the 
obligations and temptations of such an imperial position. The 
medieval Cortes were revived under the new dynasty and in the 
early years of John IV, its first monarch, they continued to 
approve new taxation. This function, however, fell into 
abeyance and under Pedro II, the Cortes met only three times, 
and then simply for the purpose of dealing with various prob- 
lems of the succession. After 1697 the Cortes vanished altogether 
and from then until 1820, Portugal provided a thoroughgoing 
example of an hereditary, absolute monarchy. 

John V (1706-50) set himself to profit by his position 
through a lavish use of money particularly for building pur- 
poses, that suggests the full strength of Louis XIV's example. 
His financial difficulties and those of his successors ean hardly 
be set down to the account of military expenditure. After the 
War of the Spanish Succession, Portugal's history was relatively 
peaceful, and no attempt was made to keep effective forces 
under arms. The war against Spain in 1762-3 and against 
revolutionary France after 1793 fully revealed Portuguese 
deficiences in this respect. 

The major causes of the difficulties of the Portuguese 
Crown, apart from royal extravagance, were indeed to be found 
in the disorder and corruption of the financial administration 
and in the fact that large portions of the Crown's nominal 
revenues had been mortgaged to private persons. There was a 
recovery after the peace with Spain in 1715. In part this was due 
directly to the royal revenues from Brazil some 3,000,000 out of 
16,000,000 cruzados, in part to the influx thence of private 
wealth which sent up the taxable capacity of the country 
without the necessity for new taxes, thus incidentally making 
possible the disappearance of the Cortes. By 1730, a measure of 
financial stability was reached, and the outstanding State 
loans were converted at favourable rates. Nevertheless, the 
economic state of the country was an unhappy one and with the 



SPAIN AND PORTUGAL 101 

administrative lethargy and nepotism of the last years of John V, 
Portugal was generally regarded as a State in decay. Attempts 
to remedy matters by legislative activity such as a new com- 
pilation of protectionist laws drawn up in 1749, foundered on 
the lack of energetic ministers. 

Energy, if nothing else, was restored to the Portuguese 
State in the following reign, that of Joseph I (1750-77), by the 
domination of a new and remarkable minister, Pombal. The 
latter came from the small rural nobility, a natural source of 
servants for absolutist monarchs, but had married his way into 
the Court nobility who had hitherto dominated the Portuguese 
State. Pombal has often been described in terms which suggest 
that, under his administration, Portugal underwent some of the 
influence of the enlightenment. In fact, however, the deep 
superstition of the country, upheld by the Inquisition and by 
censorship was not disturbed. Nor were PombaPs practical 
measures in tune with a Europe where the free-trading ideas of 
the physiocrats were already gaining ground. In spite of the fact 
that he seems to have been influenced to seek the causes of 
Portugal's weakness by his study of England during his residence 
in London as Ambassador from 1740 to 1744, his policy was 
really another attempt to adapt the methods of Colbert and 
the French mercantilists. 

Pombal reorganized the Brazilian mines, regulated the 
trade in tobacco and sugar and in 1771 took over the diamond 
trade for the State. In 1756 a new Council of Commerce was 
given important powers for the regulation of foreign commerce 
and used them to curtail the business and privileges of the 
English. Efforts to restrict the export of the precious metals 
were less successful, since Portugal could not do without 
imports including imports of grain. In the struggle to develop 
native commerce, the lack of a strong literate middle class was 
a major obstacle. Neither an attempt to interest the nobility in 
such pursuits, nor ambitious plans for increased educational 
facilities could show immediate returns. The executive capacity 
of the State was insufficient to carry the State manufactures and 
State commercial concerns which multiplied under his regime. 
Whatever may be thought of the wisdom of Pombal's policies, 
his methods involved a high-handed tyranny which brought 



102 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

him the implacable resentment of some of the great families. 
In spite of his not unsuccessful efforts to remedy both the 
immediate and long-term effects of the great Lisbon earthquake 
of 1755, Pombal did not achieve popularity and was compelled 
to fight for his position which depended on the favour of a 
monarch who became increasingly superstitious after the 
Lisbon calamity, and increasingly under the influence of the 
Jesuits. The latter were among Pombal's bitterest enemies, 
mainly it would seem because of his struggle against the 
position which they had acquired in parts of Brazil where, as in 
neighbouring Paraguay, they exercised what amounted to 
political rule over large groups of Indians, whom they were here 
thought to be detaching from their Portuguese allegiance. 

An assassination plot against the King, in which important 
noble families were implicated, enabled Pombal to act with 
vigour and brutality against both his secular and his clerical 
enemies. In 1759, the Jesuits were expelled from the country. 
After similar measures had been taken against the Order as 
enemies of the royal authority in France in 1764, and in Spain 
in 1767, it was Pombal who took the initiative with the other 
courts in suggesting a request to the Pope to suppress the order. 
The resistance of Pope Clement XIII was not maintained by his 
successor; and as has been seen, the Order was dissolved by 
Clement XIV in 1773. The wealth of the Jesuits in Portugal 
itself was not very considerable; but in Brazil the addition to 
the Crown's resources was an important one. Nevertheless and 
despite a reorganization of the financial administration in 
1771, the closing years of the reign saw no relief from the 
financial embarrassments of the dynasty. Salaries and pensions 
were heavily in arrears. Even the colonies were swallowing up 
more than the revenues they brought it. 

With the succession of the new sovereigns, Joseph's daughter 
Maria I and her uncle and consort Pedro III, the powerful 
minister fell, and a new ministry was drawn from the ranks of 
the great nobles. A series of economy measures did something to 
restore the immediate financial position but no fundamental 
changes were made. In 1778 a new legal code was projected; 
in 1779 the Academy of Sciences was founded; important 
geographical expeditions were set on foot The foundation of 



SPAIN AND PORTUGAL 103 

the charitable Casa Pia of Lisbon in 1782, showed that the new 
humanitarianism of the late eighteenth century had its influence 
in Portugal as well as in Spain. 

But the important thing was that Pombal had made no 
difference to the essential foundations of the Portuguese 
monarchy. Even if his schemes had been rightly conceived they 
must have foundered on the insufficiency of the means available 
for their execution. In 1792, the Queen collapsed into the mad- 
ness which lasted until her death twenty-four years later. Mean- 
while her son, John, Prince of Brazil, later John VI, ruled 
unhappily with the title of Prince Regent over a country as 
ill-equipped as any to face the diplomatic problems posed by the 
French Revolution for a country to whom the revolutionary 
ideals made no visible appeal. In 1807, the transfer of the court 
to Brazil helped to speed up the development of a new nation 
which the eighteenth-century growth of the Brazilian economy 
and mingling of the races were in a fair way to produce, and 
for which Portuguese absolutism could no longer suffice. 



CHAPTER V 

PRUSSIA AND AUSTRIA 

AT the end of the Thirty Years War a catastrophe from 
which Germany was long in recovering it was already plain 
that the attempt to assert the authority of the Habsburg 
emperors outside their hereditary dominions had failed. The 
machinery of the Empire, the Diet, the Supreme Court, the 
Circles for administration ground meaninglessly on. The 
Emperor was one only among the German sovereigns, even if 
for a long time to come, the most powerful of them. During the 
next century the most significant development was the emer- 
gence of the Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg-Prussia as the 
rulers of another Great Power, so that henceforth Prussia was 
not simply one of the multitude of small states into which the 
German nation had been fragmented but something clearly 
superior to its rivals. It was during the Age of Absolutism 
that there emerged into view that polarization of Germany 
between Berlin and Vienna, incarnating to some extent the 
older division into Protestant and Catholic, which was to be the 
principal feature of German history in the nineteenth century. 

The history of the Hohenzollerns thus provides a direct 
and indeed striking parallel to the history of the House of 
Savoy which from its base in Piedmont was ultimately to oust 
Austria from the control of northern Italy that it inherited 
from the Spanish Habsburgs as a result of the territorial 
settlements after the War of the Spanish Succession. It is 
probably no accident that Prussia proper, like Piedmont, was 
on the periphery of the area to which its rule was ultimately 
to give political unity. The stages in Prussia's geographical 
expansion have already been sketched. Its history provides the 
best example of what could be achieved by a succession of deter- 
mined dynasts in the way of creating a viable realm out of 
decidedly heterogeneous materials. 

The real founder of the country's greatness, Frederick 

104 



PRUSSIA AND AUSTRIA 105 

William the Great Elector (1640-88) had not been content to 
rely on military and diplomatic successes to increase and 
maintain his dominions. He had begun the essential work of 
creating a single administrative machine based primarily on 
the army supply organization, the Kriegskommissariat, and of 
subordinating to it the older provincial governments of the 
separate lands. The nobility and the towns were forced to 
confound their separate interests with those of the whole. But 
one should not read back into a seventeenth-century context 
the impersonal idea of the State of which later Prussian rulers 
were to make themselves the servants. Frederick William in his 
will attempted to divide up his lands again between the sons 
of his first and second marriages as though they were purely 
personal possessions. 

The new elector, Frederick III secured the support of the 
Privy Council in setting aside a testamentary disposition that 
ran counter to dynasty's traditions, and after his assumption 
of the title of King in Prussia in 1701, royal decrees of 1710 
and 1713 affirmed the unity of the Hohenzollern domains. But 
although Frederick inherited the basic institutions for a 
unitary State including an army and a bureaucracy in which 
Prussians, Brandenburgers and Pomeranians served alongside 
his very different subjects from the Catholic Rhenish provinces, 
the future distinction of Prussia could not easily be gauged 
from the record of his reign. He was as attracted as were the 
other German princes by the outward show of the French 
monarchy, and as blind to the evil consequences of the extrava- 
gance which this outward show portended. The creation of 
offices for sale was begun in his reign in order to meet the 
expenses entailed by Prussia's participation in the War of 
the Spanish Succession, and continued until the reign of 
Frederick II who abolished the practice except in the western 
provinces. 

Frederick William I, who came to the throne in 1713, was 
not a sympathetic character and has interested historians 
largely because of the effect that the harshness he displayed 
towards his successor may have had upon the character of that 
more enigmatic figure. Nevertheless, it was Frederick William's 
reign that marked the real turning-point in Prussia's fortunes. 



106 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

He did not indeed make any dramatic departure from precedent. 
But peace, rigid economy, the careful management of the royal 
domains and proper attention to the collection of taxes enabled 
him to double his revenues between his accession and his death 
in 1740. In the same period, the army was built up from 
38,000 to over 80,000 men. When at the end of 1740, Frederick 
II by invading Silesia made a direct bid to alter the balance of 
power in central Europe, Prussia was already, militarily speak- 
ing, a Great Power. 

From the formal point of view, the Prussian monarch was 
not yet absolute. Representative assemblies, Landtage, existed 
in Brandenburg, in Prussia and in other provinces; and there 
were survivals of similar institutions in the smaller scraps 
of Hohenzollern territory in southern and western Germany. 
In theory the Landtage still had powers over taxation and 
recruitment. In effect, however, the monarchs had succeeded in 
circumventing them by the incorporation of the landowning 
aristocracy into the machinery of the State. Upon the aristocracy 
depended also the army, Prussia's most fundamental institution. 

In dealing with this aspect of the Prussian system we 
again come up against the fundamental cleavage between 
western Europe and Europe east of the Elbe, where serfdom 
was the dominant social institution and where the duties of the 
nobility towards the State were closely connected with their 
direct authority over their own serfs. The European standing 
armies had grown up in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as a 
weapon by which the monarchs might subdue their over-mighty 
subjects. But since, as the history of the Italian city-states had 
shown, the middle classes were willing to pay for their defence 
but not to fight, the standing armies had themselves become 
largely the preserve of the nobility as far as the officer corps was 
concerned. 

The political significance of this fact varied according 
to the balance of social classes and other forces within the 
particular countries concerned. Where the middle class was 
politically weak it was content to leave the whole question 
to the monarchy provided that it was not interfered with in its 
own preferred pursuits. Where as in England and Holland the 
middle class had influence through its representatives on the 



PRUSSIA AND AUSTRIA 107 

levying of taxes this in turn gave it a handle in military matters. 
The English story is usually told as though the problem 
was solved by the end of the seventeenth century, after which 
the armed forces depended for their financial support upon 
annual appropriations and for their discipline upon an annual 
Mutiny Act. But the matter was much less simple since the 
army officers continued to form if not a class at least an impor- 
tant vested interest and to act accordingly. Parliamentary 
seats were used by officers as a means of professional advance- 
ment; sixty-four serving army officers were elected to 
Parliament in 1761 as well as a number of naval officers. After 
the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars this came to an end and 
henceforth army interests were guarded by the retired officers 
sitting in Parliament. From 1794, too, the office of the Com- 
mander-in-Chief, the "Horse Guards" also devoted itself to 
defending the interests of the military against the civilian 
interests represented by the War Office. As far as England is 
concerned it was only the abolition of the purchase of com- 
missions in 1871 that ended the ancien regime in the army. 

If in parliamentary and pacific England the officering 
of the army by the landed gentry and the mechanisms by which 
this employment was assured were social phenomena of such 
significance, their importance under quasi-feudal conditions, 
such as existed in Prussia, is readily understandable. The 
nobles were able to exact rewards more important than the 
right to regard commissions in the army as property enjoying a 
market price. What they wanted was not only exemption from 
plebeian burdens of taxation and billeting, but above all power 
within their estates. In 1653, the Great Elector was granted by 
the Estates the right to maintain a standing army, and six years* 
taxes towards its upkeep, while the peasantry was finally 
reduced to complete serfdom. It was an implicit bargain of the 
kind which we shall come across again when we deal with 
Russia. 

After 1721 a scheme was developed which gave the Prussian 
landowner even further privileges. If he held a captaincy, 
he could now bring into the army serfs belonging to himself or 
his relatives, and after exercising them for a few months send 
them back "on leave" for work on the land. As elsewhere the 



108 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

nobility insisted that service as officers should be a monopoly 
of their class. Whereas the two best generals of the Great 
Elector's day had been men of middle-class origin, pnly nobles 
could now attain military eminence. 

These measures can only be understood in the light of the 
economic position of the Prussian nobility. In contrast to the 
nobles of southern and western Germany who lived on their 
rents, the poorer nobles of north-eastern Germany were 
themselves active in the management of their Estates. The work 
they did for the Crown in collecting taxes, on exercising criminal 
justice where the peasants were concerned, and in recruitment 
went alongside their economic r61e as agricultural entrepreneurs. 
Even so, however, their estates were not large enough to 
guarantee them an income suitable to their station, and public 
employment in the first place in the army was essential to the 
majority of them, in Brandenburg and Pomerania, as in Silesia 
after its incorporation into the Hohenzollern kingdom. Like 
other rulers in the period, the Prussian kings found it difficult 
to get the nobles to accept regular training as the necessary 
counterpart of their military privileges. It was Frederick II 
who developed the annual musters into what became regular 
autumn manoeuvres. Even so, as long as the nobles held 
on to their monopoly, training requirements could be got round. 
Later in the century the demand for commissions was greater 
than the number available, and we find the Prussian nobles 
entering and claiming privileges in technical corps like the 
artillery and engineers that had previously been despised. 
Earlier there had been a development in the opposite direction; 
for at the end of the Seven Years* War, Prussia ? s losses caused 
a shortage of officers and it was necessary to admit some bour- 
geois, though the nobles took advantage of the prevailing 
scarcity in order to get better terms for themselves. Frederick II 
himself believed that only nobles could make good officers. 
Legislation to make noble lands inalienable was also enacted 
with this in mind. The noble class was thus almost closed to 
new entrants. On the other hand it was essential to prevent 
the officers developing too much of a caste spirit, and Frederick 
attempted to meet this danger by making much of distinctions 
in army rank and by employing nobles from outside his own 



PRUSSIA AND AUSTRIA 109 

kingdom refugee Hungarian Protestants for instance so that 
the bourgeois officers in the Prussian army were actually 
outnumbered by the foreigners. On the other hand the 
eighteenth-century decline in the landed revenues of the 
Rhenish nobility increased the demand for employment to such 
an extent that Prussia could not satisfy it, so that we find 
Rhenish nobles in the service of the Emperor, and even of the 
Czar. Eighteenth-century cosmopolitanism is largely an 
economic phenomenon. 

The central point occupied by the army in Frederick IFs 
scheme of things did not affect his view of the nobility only. 
A healthy peasantry was necessary to fill the ranks, and peasants 
must be safeguarded in their holdings. Production must 
not be allowed to suffer through the diversion of manpower, so 
that conscription should only apply to younger sons. It was 
best of all if foreigners could be got to fight one's battles; 
the Prussian army was wide open to tike recruitment of prisoners 
of war, deserters or other mercenaries. Frederick, like the 
philosophes whom he professed to admire, paid lip-service to 
patriotism, but he did not rely on it to win battles. Discipline 
was the foundation of his army and of other eighteenth- 
century armies. Consequently they could not be allowed to 
scatter in the manner necessary if they were to live off the 
country. Everything must be provided in supplies and 
magazines. The social composition of eighteenth-century armies 
as well as the technical development of the period help explain 
their tactics and their strategy. The war of limited liability 
was, as we have seen, forced upon the dynasts by the weapons 
they had at their disposal. Prussia in particular, founded, 
maintained and aggrandized by war, continued in the eighteenth 
century to make heavy demands upon the resources and 
resourcefulness of the entire country and sometimes of others 
for the support of her armies. 

Frederick II did not, despite his early differences with 
his father, and his intellectual interest in the new ideas coining 
from France, substantially alter the course of the Prussian 
monarchy. In 1750 there was still a steady surplus in the 
treasury and it was due neither to a more intelligent system of 
taxation, nor to a juster social system but simply to an efficient 



110 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

administration in the service of a monarch in whose person the 
public had wholly swallowed up the private. The Lutheran 
idea of monarchy by divine right wliich had been so important 
in Germany made no appeal to him. The justification of the 
monarchy was essentially the service which it could render to 
the State and through the State to the people. Frederick did 
not consider himself an arbitrary despot but rather, the first 
servant of the State, working within the bounds set by its laws, 
and the remodelling of the judicial system and of the legal code 
were carried through with this in mind. On the other hand, there 
was in this theory of a welfare state no trace of democratic 
inspiration. 

Frederick had a low opinion of the masses of his subjects 
and regarded even the benefits he conferred upon them as 
voluntary gifts and not as concessions to any theory of human 
rights. It was the arbitrary decision of the Prince which gave 
to his subjects the benefit of liberty of conscience, and the 
advantages of education according to the respective needs of 
the different classes of society as he saw them. Economic policy 
was carried forward according to the dictates of mercantilism as 
taught in its German form by the writers known as cameralists; 
its object was thus the enrichment of the community for the 
ultimate benefit of the treasury, and a deliberate choice on 
political and social grounds of the aspects of the economy to 
receive encouragement. In such a system as ideally conceived 
each individual would have his place either in the direct service 
of the State or in some economic activity which conduced to its 
well-being. But no initiative was demanded of him, no political 
criticism countenanced, and no sphere was available for free 
collaboration between the nation and its ruler. It was, as events 
were to show, a system at once effective and enormously 
brittle. In an unchanging world and with a succession of 
enlightened despots, enlightened despotism in Frederick's 
manner might seem a welcome alternative to the feudal anarchy, 
as well as the only one conceivable over much of Europe. 

The objectives which Frederick set himself, to increase 
the population of his territories, to stimulate industry and so 
on were not novel. Nevertheless his successes entitle him to 
be regarded as pre-eminent among the "enlightened despots". 



PRUSSIA AND AUSTRIA 111 

And despite the cultural prestige of France, for actual methods 
of government it was Prussia that seemed to provide the 
appropriate model of government for all reforming monarchs in 
the second half of the eighteenth century. Frederick was con- 
scious of his role as an enlightened despot and happy to be 
regarded as its theorist. His writings round this theme bulk 
considerably in its literature: Anti-Machiavel, Memoires pour 
servir d Vhistoire de la Maison de Brandenbourg, Considerations 
sur VEtat present du Corps Politique de V Europe and the two 
Testaments Politiques of 1742 and 1768, as well as the volumin- 
ous correspondence with the philosophes and with his fellow- 
rulers. 

Administration even more than policy was the key to Prussian 
success. An essential feature of the development of a Prussian 
state was the development of a national bureaucracy alongside 
the old purchasable offices and entirely separate from them. It 
was recruited through examination and subject to methodical 
training; both venality and private patronage were excluded. 

The Prussian system was originally sharply differentiated 
from that of France by being based on the collective responsi- 
bility of boards or "colleges" and not on the personal authority 
of ministers and their subordinates. At the top the four 
members of the principal administrative body the General- 
direktorium (the General Directory), created in 1723, exercised a 
range of identical functions in the different provinces so 
that they were mutually interdependent. The provinces were 
looked after by the Kriegs-und Domdnenkammern the 
chambers for war and the royal domains in which the 
principle of group solidarity was even more strongly enforced. 
Their work was set out in detail in a written instrument, the 
r&glement from which no departure was permitted. Below the 
chamber again were the local authorities. The more important 
of these was the Steuerrat or local commissary who supervised 
from six to ten towns from both the fiscal and die administrative 
point of view and who controlled the local gendarmerie with 
the formal reserve power of being able to call the military to his 
assistance when necessary. In the rural areas, the Landrat, a 
nobleman often elected by his peers was responsible for publish- 
ing royal edicts for enforcing the conscription laws, and for 



112 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

police. He was also nominally responsible for seeing that the laws 
protecting the peasant against exploitation were observed, but 
was hardly likely to do so to the discomfiture of his fellow- 
landlords. 

Throughout the system absolute uniformity was insisted 
upon and was enforced by central control. The object was 
to prevent the local influence of the nobility from distorting 
the government's intentions. This uniformity was not unsuited 
to the simple social structure of the eastern agrarian provinces, 
but in the Rhenish provinces with their more varied economy 
and freer traditions, friction between the bureaucracy and the 
population would seem to have been endemic. 

The system demanded that there should be a continual 
reference upwards of even local matters, and the General 
Directory and its officials had the task of providing the statistics 
and other necessary information upon which the King himself 
could eventually form his decisions which alone had final 
validity. The apex of the governmental pyramid was thus 
the monarch himself, and he alone could see his country's 
situation as a whole. Frederick believed, not without reason, 
that the French system of ministers under a king like Louis XV 
meant a lack of co-ordination. Even the General Directory 
could not provide this, since some provinces and some govern- 
mental activities lay outside its scope. 

Under Frederick II there was nothing comparable to either 
the French or the Spanish councils. Apart from an annual 
"review of ministers" when the King approved the budgets and 
discussed the affairs of the different departments with their 
heads, the King hardly ever saw his ministers. The ministers 
worked in Berlin while the King lived at Potsdam. No official, 
not even a minister came to Potsdam except at the King's 
express command. Everything was done by means of written 
reports, sorted by the King's five personal secretaries and 
dealt with by him in person. This demanded of the King an 
almost inhuman routine of daily toil only possible because 
Frederick had no family ties, maintained no court and 
took no holidays. When he went on progress, the secre- 
taries had to go too. The elaborate organization for 
handling the royal leisure at Versailles had no Prussian 



PRUSSIA AND AUSTRIA 113 

parallel; and few palaces have been so inappropriately named 
as Sans Souci. 

Although the system was a thoroughly expeditious one it 
had its obvious flaws. Even a king like Frederick could not 
really be omniscient, and since initiative was discouraged and 
obedience insisted upon, the ministers were forced into trying 
to deceive him, with ti^e connivance often, of the royal secretaries 
themselves. Frederick, well aware of such tendencies, developed 
an ineradicable suspicion of his ministers and contrived a whole 
system of controls to check upon what he was officially told. 
His annual progresses were intended to act as such a check 
upon the written reports, but were ineffective for the purpose. 
He was afraid of connivance between the Chambers and the 
General Directory, but since the r&glement was kept secret, 
the only possible check was an internal one. A separate official, 
the fiscal was attached to the General Directory, to each 
Chamber and at other points in the administrative machine, to 
act as royal spy, and where necessary as prosecuting attorney 
as well. Annual reports were demanded from the presidents of 
the chambers on their subordinates. Promotions, removals, and 
punishments were the King's alone: but again he had to depend 
on others for knowledge of the persons concerned. 

The immediate test of the system was whether it could meet 
the fiscal needs of the kingdom. After the Seven Years War, 
Frederick asked the General Directory to provide for a large 
increase in revenue and finding it unable to fulfil the task, 
set up a new separate organization the regie under a French 
tax-farmer de Launay to collect the excise taxes throughout 
the country. De Launay received a salary three times that of 
a minister, and he and his agents were given a share in the 
proceeds of the tax in order to stimulate their zeal. 

From the fiscal point of view the measure was a success 
and the budgetary needs were more than met; a surplus was 
left which was used for the encouragement of industry. In other 
respects, the old Prussian fiscal system was unaltered. The 
peasant paid, it was reckoned, over 40 per cent of his income 
to the State besides his dues to his lord. And whereas the 
landed nobility of East Prussia and of Silesia were taxed, those 
of the central provinces were not. Nevertheless, because 



114 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

of the success of the regie, the Prussian financial situation 
compared favourably with that of other countries. A proper 
annual budget for central and local expenditure was maintained, 
in striking contrast to France, for instance, where one year's 
accounts ran on into the next. 

From the point of view of government the main thing was 
that the regie was not subordinate to the General Directory. 
It was, however, neither the first nor the last separate adminis- 
tration. A special ministry for commerce was set up in 1741, 
for conquered Silesia in 1742, and for the army in 1768. Others 
were established later for mining and forestry. The mint, and 
later the Government bank and the tobacco monopoly, were 
also put under officers directly responsible to the King. The 
process of disintegration was completed when the King began to 
deal separately with the members of the General Directory 
itself which rarely reached corporate decisions after 1770. The 
Foreign Office and Department of Justice had always been 
outside its sphere, and now the whole machinery was in fact 
broken up into separate ministries some on a functional and some 
on a territorial basis. During Frederick's lifetime the lack of a 
properly co-ordinated central government was made up for by 
the energy of the King himself, and by the vigour of the 
seventeen provincial chambers. Although these were primarily 
financial organs they were also the instruments of the King's 
positive policies of internal colonization and the encouragement 
of industry. Their internal organization was a highly com- 
plicated one, and again demanded a mass of paper work. 
Nevertheless, the bureaucracy which was stimulated to its 
exertions by the lack of any internal dividing lines to hamper 
the promotion of the most efficient officers, remained a relatively 
small and compact body numbering on the eve of the French 
Revolution only some 14,000. It should not be forgotten, 
however, that in Prussia the ecclesiastical organization also 
performed some governmental functions. The two Protestant 
Churches, Lutheran and Calvinist were governed by consis- 
tories, central and local, themselves nominated by the Crown, 
and responsible to the General Directory. The pastors were 
assisted by lay councils and responsible for the parish registers 
and for education. 



PRUSSIA AND AUSTRIA 115 

By the time of the French Revolution, however, an important 
change had taken place in the Prussian governmental machine. 
Under Frederick William I and his predecessors the civil 
administration had been recruited from the middle class. 
Frederick II, seeking to maintain the incomes of the nobles, had 
opened the civil service to them as well. Many important posts 
both central and local were reserved for nobles and gradually 
they infiltrated into minor offices as well. They also found 
promotion easier than their bourgeois competitors. Furthermore, 
increasing numbers of civil posts particularly at the lower levels 
were reserved for ex-officers. This was the only way of reward- 
ing war veterans, and after 1799 such posts were wholly reserved 
for them. This put an end to the practice of choosing the higher 
officials from the subordinate ranks of the bureaucracy, and 
paved the way for the formal nineteenth-century separation 
between the two strata of the civil service. At the same time the 
training of higher civil servants had become more rigorous. In 
the second half of the eighteenth century attendance at a 
University became normal for aspirants. There they studied 
cameralism, that is to say political economy rather than the law 
as in France. Some time had also to be spent working on the 
royal domains which still accounted for one-fourth of the 
entire kingdom. Only then could they apply to the General 
Directory to be admitted to the examination. 

The increased share of the nobility in administration had 
its effects upon policy. In the provincial chambers in particular, 
it meant the strengthening of conservative tendencies. Efforts by 
Frederick to emancipate the Prussian serfs, to improve their 
titles to their holdings, to promote enclosures or to provide 
safeguards against illegal feudal exactions ran up against their 
insurmountable opposition though there was some improve- 
ment on Crown estates. The fact that the bureaucrats were 
paid in part proportionately to the revenues they collected 
acted as an incentive to maintain things as they were, and 
simply to tighten up administration. The ultimate authority in 
the countryside was in the hands of the Landrat, himself a noble 
who had to be chosen from candidates presented by the 
Estates. The most that the King could do was to insist that 
the Landrat should come from some province other than the 



116 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

one he was appointed to. In Prussia as in other countries the 
apparent absolutism of the Crown was limited by a social 
structure which was taken for granted and which conditioned 
all action, if no longer all thought. 

The other German states varied in the extent to which they 
were open to the ideas of enlightened despotism. On the one 
hand were such models of progress as Brunswick after the 
accession of Frederick's nephew Charles William Ferdinand in 
1780, Saxe- Weimar where Goethe was minister for a decade, 
and in the south, Baden. Saxony, after the termination in 1763 
of the dynastic union with Poland, and Hanover were respect- 
ably governed by the standards of the time. The latter afforded 
less of interest to the observer than might have been expected 
from the'fact that the University of Gottingen which opened its 
doors in 1737 rapidly rose to be the leading one in the whole of 
Germany. But at the other extreme was the savage oppression 
prevailing in the two Duchies of Mecklenburg, and the obscur- 
antism of the ecclesiastical Electorates of the lower Rhine and 
of the Wittelsbach regime in the Palatinate and Bavaria. Despite 
the struggles of the Estates which were unique in Germany in 
the survival of their vitality into the second half of the eighteenth 
century, the situation in Wurttemberg was little better. Every- 
where it seemed as though the caprice of the rulers, and above 
all the amount of extravagance to which they thought themselves 
entitled was decisive for the happiness of their subjects 
decisive, within the limits noted, for good government or the 
reverse. The final illustration of what the system of petty 
dynasts meant was afforded by Ansbach-Baireuth whose ruler 
having, like the then Duke of Brunswick and the Landgrave of 
Hesse-Cassel, sold his subjects to England to fight in the 
American war, ended by selling his principality itself to 
Prussia for cash, and retired to England on the proceeds. If 
German patriotism were to become a political force there seemed 
little prospect of strong particularist loyalties other than that to 
Prussia standing in its way. 

AUSTRIA 

The modern history of Austria begins with the reign of 
Charles VI who succeeded his brother Joseph I in 1711. 



PRUSSIA AND AUSTRIA 117 

Under their father Leopold I, Hungary had been reconquered 
from the Turks, under Joseph it became clear that there was 
no real prospect of the main body of the dominions of the now 
extinct Spanish branch of the House of Habsburg passing to 
Austrian rule. The question was whether a new and powerful 
State could be forged out of the lands now ruled by the 
Austrian Habsburgs. These were not merely geographically 
separated like the lands of the Hohenzollerns, but widely 
dissimilar in character. What was there in common between 
the Austrian lands proper, the Catholic and German alpine 
valleys, the kingdom of Hungary where a powerful Magyar or 
Magyarized aristocracy lorded it over a heterogeneous peasantry 
largely of Slav stock, Bohemia where since the reconquest of 
1620 racial and religious discontent smouldered under German 
Catholic rule, and finally Lombardy and the Netherlands 
(Belgium) where Austrian rule overlay a tradition of provincial 
or municipal autonomy? 

The effort of Charles VI and his successors to endow their 
possessions with a centralized and authoritarian form of 
government began with the additional weakness of an uncertain 
succession. It was necessary for Charles if his lands were to 
remain undivided to substitute a constitutional link for the 
purely personal one which was all that held them together. 
Since he was without prospect of a son this had to be achieved 
through his daughter, Maria Theresa. The document known 
as the "pragmatic sanction" of 1713 which laid down a 
permanent law of succession for all the Habsburg lands 
required the sanction of the Estates of those lands in which this 
medieval form of representation still lingered. In 1720, the 
Bohemian Diet acceded to Charles* wishes without much diffi- 
culty. Hungary had a more tenacious tradition of constitutional 
resistance, and whereas little survived of the indigenous 
Bohemian nobility after the proscriptions which followed the 
fatal battle of the White Mountain in 1620, the Hungarian 
nobility was still intact. Leopold I in 1687 had indeed got the 
Hungarians to abrogate their seven-century old tradition of 
elective monarchy in favour of male succession in the Habsburg 
line and also the abandonment of the formal jus resistandi, the 
right of resistance upon which a section of the nobility largely on 



118 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

religious grounds had rebelled against the newly reimposed rule 
of the Emperor. At the same time Leopold had accepted a 
limited measure of toleration in favour of Lutherans and Cal- 
vinists; but this had not prevented a new revolt under Francis 
Rakoczi which aimed at establishing a crowned aristocratic 
republic on the Polish model. The turn of the war against 
Louis XIV had strengthened the Austrians against the 
Hungarians and in 1711 by the peace of Szatmar, the authority 
of Charles VI had been accepted along with guarantees of 
Hungary's particular liberties and of religious toleration. The 
agreement of 1723 by which the Pragmatic Sanction was 
accepted in Hungary maintained that country's special position 
intact. 

The obstacles to the centralizing policies of Charles VI 
and Maria Theresa were not merely constitutional. The 
religious factor continued to be of importance for the Habsburg 
Empire until almost the end of Maria Theresa's reign; she 
continued to regard all religious dissent with unconcealed 
hostility, even when local conditions made active persecution 
impossible. This fact gave a handle to its rivals. In 1735, 
Frederick William I of Prussia announced his intention of 
intervening at the Imperial Diet in favour of the surviving 
Protestants of Bohemia. In Hungary the Orthodox Serbs were 
suspected of looking with too favourable an eye on the Russian 
Czar. 

The whole outlook of Austria underwent a profound change 

within the period we are dealing with as a result of Frederick it's 

successful challenge to the Pragmatic Sanction in its international 

diplomatic aspect, and the consequent loss to the Habsburgs 

of Silesia. The lands of the Bohemian crown had, ever since 

the reconquest, provided a very high proportion of the dynasty's 

total revenues. Hungarian loyalty at the critical time prevented 

the Czech lands following Silesia after the Bohemian nobility 

had shown the fragility of the Habsburg system by swearing 

allegiance to the newly elected Emperor, the Bavarian Charles 

VII. But the loss of Silesia itself was of great consequence. It 

closed to Austrian commerce the Oder and Elbe rivers and 

forced it to seek a new outlet which was ultimately found in 

Trieste, an imperial free port from 1719. The commercial unity 



PRUSSIA AND AUSTRIA 119 

of the lands of the Bohemian crown was severed and Bohemian 
industry and commerce suffered thereby, particularly in view of 
the long tariff war with Prussia that began in 1749. Hence- 
forward Austrian economic policy was directed towards 
winning markets in eastern Europe, the Balkans and in Italy; in 
1783 the first boat from Vienna reached the Black Sea. Other 
developments also tended to divert Austrian attention to the 
east. The most important of these was the resettlement of the 
Hungarian plain after the expulsion of the Turks, an enterprise 
of such magnitude that eighteenth-century Hungary has been 
compared to the North American frontier of settlement. It 
was the Magyar element which, as we have seen, gained most 
proportionately from this movement of population, and this, too, 
was bound to have political results, although the most important 
of these did not become apparent until the next century. The 
Slav element in the Empire was also increased by the annexation 
of Galicia in 1772, a poor but fertile province with a Polish 
landowning class and a Ukrainian peasantry, and by that of 
Bukovina in 1777. 

In the light of these developments the various expedients in 
foreign policy which presented themselves to the active mind of 
Joseph II are not difficult to understand. The almost land- 
locked Empire should, he believed, become more commercially 
minded, and he founded a short-lived East India Company at 
Trieste which was financed by Antwerp but which proved 
unable to compete with the Dutch. He attempted to revive 
the idea of Charles VI that Belgium should recover its former 
eminence in trade, but this broke down because France would 
not support him in his efforts to have the Scheldt reopened. He 
now turned to a project which had been in the air before, that of 
getting rid of Belgium altogether by exchanging it for Bavaria. 
The threat to the balance of power in Germany which this 
rounding off of the Habsburg dominions would have meant 
assured an opposition too strong for Joseph to overcome. An 
active foreign policy could only be one of alliance with Russia 
at Turkey's expense as in the expensive war of 1788-91, and 
this meant being drawn still further into the Balkans. 

In economic policy the eighteenth century saw in Austria a 
partial transition from mercantilist to physiocratic principles. 



120 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

The subsidies and controls by which it had been sought to 
stimulate economic life in the early part of Maria Theresa's 
reign gave way under the co-regency from 1765 to greater 
freedom. The new outlook demanded the abolition of all 
internal barriers to commerce. In 1753, the Bohemian lands had 
been brought within a single tariff system, and in 1775 they 
were incorporated into an Austrian-Bohemian customs union. 
But not only Belgium and Lombardy, but even the Tyrol, 
Hungary and Trieste remained outside. This was the more 
important in that, as far as tariff policy went, Joseph followed 
the cameralist preference for the encouragement of industry 
through high protective tariffs, such as the almost prohibitive 
one of 1784. It would have been logical to bring Hungary in at 
least, since that country was overwhelmingly agricultural while 
Austria and Bohemia had important industrial resources. 
But this was not done. Hungary had always been in a weak 
position to bargain on trade matters with Vienna, since at least 
until the acquisition of Fiume in 1776 she had no independent 
outlet for her trade. Now under Joseph it was feared that the 
unrestricted competition of Hungarian grain and wine might 
prove too much for the Austrian peasants. As seen through 
Hungarian eyes, the Hungarian market was reserved for the 
Austrians while the Austrian market was only open to 
Hungarians if no Austrian interest was affected thereby. Even 
if this picture of "colonial" dependence is regarded as over- 
drawn in view of Hungary's privileges in the matter of taxa- 
tion, it is obvious that the Habsburgs' attempt to treat their 
empire as a single unit from the point of view of its competitive 
position among the Great Powers was to some extent hampered 
by their feeling that the original German-speaking Austrian 
provinces were the true basis of their strength, and that their 
prosperity must be safeguarded even at the expense of their 
other possessions. The word federal has been used in connexion 
with the central institutions developed by Leopold I and his 
successors; but Austria was never a federation of equal units. 

What stood in the way of making Austria a fully-fledged 
bureaucratic centralized State was not, however, national or 
religious heterogeneity, but the fundamental dass structure 
reflected in law and institutions. If we leave aside Belgium and 



PRUSSIA AND AUSTRIA 121 

Lombardy which Maria Theresa continued to govern separately, 
we have in Austria, Bohemia and Hungary three countries in 
which the essential social relationship was that of landlord and 
serf, and in which the powers of the government at the local 
level were almost exclusively in the hands of the landlord. The 
middle classes upon which the "new monarchies" of western 
Europe had relied to counterbalance the powers of the landed 
aristocracy were weak. In Hungary, indeed, there was a 
native bourgeoisie in a few towns; elsewhere the urban 
populations were entirely non-Magyar. The assemblies of 
Estates were thus representative, not of the people, as the 
Bohemians were reminded by the Imperial Government in 
1791, but only of certain classes. The Hungarian Diet with its 
Upper House of Magnates, and Lower House representing the 
gentry and the towns had the best claim to be regarded as a 
true Parliament. But the class tie in Hungary was more impor- 
tant than national feeling, and it was given body by the nobility's 
completed exemption from all direct taxation. In addition, the 
unique county organization of the nobles gave them a corporate 
sense and the habit of joint action. The ruling-class including 
Slovak or Magyar speaking nobles was thus in many respects a 
single unit. But of the 75,000 noble families recorded in the 
census of 1787 many, of course, were distinguished only by their 
legal status from the wealthier peasantry. 

By the beginning of the eighteenth century some of the 
organs of central government in the Austrian and Bohemian 
lands were already staffed by paid bureaucrats on the usual 
absolutist model, and the growth and spread of this bureaucracy 
was to be the principal index of the movement towards central- 
ization. Furthermore, the growth of such a bureaucracy meant 
that the language in which it operated, namely German, 
increased in importance even in non-German speaking lands. 
The future importance of the language question was thus 
already latent when Joseph II began his policy of conscious 
Gennanization through his schools policy. This in its turn 
awakened the national sentiments particularly of the Czechs, 
Poles and Magyars who were required to abandon their own 
language as the price of access to higher education or govern- 
ment preferment. Supported by the clergy who feared to see 



122 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

their influence over their flocks disappear, a Czech revival made 
itself felt even before the death of Joseph II. It did not need 
the French Revolution to make the nationalities question a 
living one in Danubian Europe. 

It was because the gulf between landowner and serf was 
so unbridgeable that national resistance of the non-German 
lands was so long delayed. The manor in Bohemia, for instance, 
was a miniature world of its own: the lord of the manor alone 
was a citizen of the State; the peasants for whom he was 
military commander, judge and tax-collector in one had no 
status outside it. The lord had a right to the peasant's labour- 
services and from that had arisen since the sixteenth century 
the right to prevent him moving, to decide upon his occupation 
and to arrange for his marriage. The land ordinance of 1627 
confirmed in the harsh terms of Roman law the sharpening of 
rural oppression that came about when the indigenous Czech 
landowners were replaced by Germans. A peasant revolt in 
1680 produced even more rigid legislation. There was further 
legislation in 1717 and 1738 which again strengthened the 
position of the landlords, for while they could enforce the 
claims to labour services which they were granted, the Govern- 
ment had no administrative powers to interfere in favour of 
those rights acknowledged as belonging to the serfs. The State 
was concerned to support the authority of the landlord and the 
taxable capacity of the country; its influence right down to the 
reign of Charles VI was cast in favour of the feudal tie. Never- 
theless, the enhancement of the State authority was in the long 
run to the serf's advantage. In 1748 and 1751 reorganizations of 
Bohemian local government displaced the landlord's authority 
by that of paid officials, and under the stimulus of new ideas, 
Maria Theresa issued in 1775 the first measures designed to 
ameliorate the peasant's lot. On the Empress's own estates she 
began to convert labour services into a money rental. 

In Hungary the change of policy had come even earlier. 
At the time of the Treaty of Szatmar, the power of the manorial 
lord in Hungary was no less absolute than in Austria or 
Bohemia. It was charged that for the gentry the life of the 
serf had no value; both the manor court and the county court 
could inflict the death penalty; nor could the serf give evidence 



PRUSSIA AND AUSTRIA 123 

in the latter against nobles or their bailiffs. The ultimate 
sanction of the servile system was thus in the hands of those for 
whose benefit it existed. Acts of the Hungarian Parliament in 
1717, 1723 and 1729 increased the power of the counties to 
administer the laws concerning serfdom, although the last of 
these did give the serfs limited powers of testifying in the courts. 
The dependence of the Crown on the military service owed by 
the Hungarian nobles was, however, demonstrated by the events 
of 1741, and it seemed unlikely that it could ever challenge their 
collective hold on the peasantry. But the effort was bound to be 
made. In 1756, a statute relating to labour-services, was issued 
for Slavonia, and the more celebrated urbarium (protocol), for 
Hungary and Croatia in 1767. The legal significance of the 
urbarium was that the peasant's labour services as laid down by 
law had hitherto been taken as a minimum only; now the 
minimum was converted into a maximum, and no changes 
unfavourable to the peasant could be introduced in future. 
Special commissioners replaced the county authorities in cases 
involving the urbarium: the peasantry was for the first time in 
direct contact with the State machine and began to look to 
Vienna for protection against its oppressors. In the case of the 
non-Magyars this tendency was even more marked. 

The loss of Silesia so crucial in other ways also marked 
the beginning of Maria Theresa's administrative reforms. Her 
principal advisers, Haugwitz and Kaunitz believed that the 
disaster had come about because the monarchy, unlike Prussia, 
was unable to make full use of its resources. Austria, too, 
must have a standing army and the figure of 108,000 men was 
fixed upon; this would involve heavy expense. Consequently, 
dependence upon the provincial estates had to be avoided, and 
fixed revenues acquired at the sole disposal of the Crown. 
The basis of administration had to be shifted from a feudal 
one to a bureaucratic one. Between 1748 and 1763 this ambitious 
programme was carried through to a very large extent. In 1760 
the system was given a new coping-stone in a Council of State 
made up of officials who had the right to discuss the affairs of 
the whole Habsburg Empire, and to make recommendations 
binding on the monarch and on the provincial administration. 

At the centre of affairs separate departments were created 



124 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

for all the great concerns of the State. The foreign office, 
reorganized under the name of State chancellery, was placed 
under Kaunitz in 1753: the Hofkriegsrat (Council of War) 
created by Ferdinand I in the sixteenth century was reconsti- 
tuted and given authority throughout the monarchy: a 
Kommerzdirektorium modelled on that of Prussia was created 
as the executive agency of economic policy. A supreme court 
for the monarchy (excluding Hungary) was set up in 1749, it 
being the first time that a clear-cut distinction between the 
administrative and the judicial function had been made in 
Austria. Simultaneously, the ancient chancelleries of Austria 
and Bohemia were abolished, and a new organ, the Direktorium^ 
created to deal with political and financial matters affecting both 
kingdoms. In 1762, the Direktorium was abolished and purely 
financial matters handed over to a Court Treasury, while a new 
Bohemian-Austrian Court Chancellery dealt with political 
questions including taxation. Political and financial powers were 
reunited under Joseph II; and his successor, Leopold II, made 
further changes. But these were changes within a single 
administrative machine; Bohemia was no longer a separate 
dominion. 

Fiscal reform was no less important. In 1748 Haugwitz 
persuaded the Estates of both the Austrian and the Bohemian 
lands to sign agreements for extra taxation, valid for a ten 
year period. Between 1748 and 1760 a series of measures in 
Austria subjected the nobility and clergy for the first time 
to systematic direct taxation, and converted the taxes on the 
peasants from personal into income taxes, though the burden 
on them remained much heavier than on the privileged clas" 
It was discovered, too, that the Estates were holding back 
the surplus taxation collected in good years, and that they 
had a secret treasure of their own. This was put an end to 
in 1762 when the money which had been diverted in this way 
was forced out of the Estates. Henceforth they were responsible 
only for the repartition of the totals fixed by the Government. 
They were forced to advance money to Vienna while agents of 
the central government collected the taxes, and were responsible 
for any deficit. But the system still remained a cumbersome one. 
In 1763 a poll-tax was enacted, the population being divided 



PRUSSIA AND AUSTRIA 125 

into twenty-four classes and the tax being levied on families each 
of which was taken as having five children; larger ones paid 
more. This measure suggests a primitive state of economy, like 
the Russian, with individuals, not land or income being taken 
as the basis for taxation. Various forms of indirect taxation 
including a salt-tax were also employed and there was a royal 
monopoly of minerals. Tax-farmers were called upon with the 
usual sacrifice of net revenue. 

In Bohemia further ten-year bargains known as "recesses*' 
were made with the Estates under Maria Theresa and Joseph II, 
but the Crown largely relied on increasing those constituents 
of its revenues which were not subject to the Estates at all. 
Since these were mainly derived from indirect taxes they 
increased proportionately as the country's population grew, and 
with it consumption. It was as though the Habsburgs were 
succeeding where the first two Stuarts in England had failed 
more than a century earlier. It is difficult to estimate the extent 
to which Belgium and the Italian possessions contributed to the 
imperial treasury apart from the cost of their own government. 
But a considerable sum came from the former to meet the 
expenses of the Seven Years' War. 

From the point of view of the machinery of credit, the Habs- 
burg monarchy was relatively well-off. Leopold I gave his 
guarantee to a bank set up by the municipality of Vienna in 
1703. This gradually began to advance money to the Crown 
and to receive its revenues in payment until the major part 
of them came to be handled in this fashion. It later became 
bank of issue, partly on the basis of deposits, which charitable 
foundations, for instance, were obliged to keep there, and 
partly on the strength of its loans to the Crown. It also gave its 
backing to bills issued on the credit of the Estates. When 
Joseph came to exercise sole rule in 1780 after his fifteen years of 
co-regency with his mother, the Austrian financial system, 
aided by the long period of peace which had elapsed, was, 
despite many anomalous feudal survivals, capable of mobilizing 
important resources; and it has even been argued that it was 
this fact which gave Joseph the over-confidence which was at 
the root of his ultimate failure. 

The power of the Estates waned with the loss of their 



126 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

financial importance and the changes in the central government 
were paralleled in the provinces. From the administrative point 
of view the non-Hungarian part of the monarchy was divided 
into ten provinces, each with its superior court and adminis- 
trative board. The latter, generally known as the gubernium, 
was subordinate to the direktorium and its successors at Vienna. 
In each district or "circle* * of a province the official known as 
the kreishauptmann, once a servant of the Estates, but now an 
official of the Crown, exercised his functions under the control 
of the gubernium. He united in himself the functions of the 
Prussian landrat with those of the Prussian local commissary, 
and was the agent for the increasing interference of the Crown 
with conditions on the landed estates. The kreishauptmann thus, 
in effect, resembled the French intendant, and exercised his 
functions with an anti-feudal bias. The serf could carry his 
quarrel with his lord before him, and was not, as in Prussia, 
limited to the ordinary local courts dominated by the nobility. 
This was possible because there was no real parallel to the 
dependence of the Prussian crown upon the nobility for civilian, 
and above all military, service. The Bohemian magnates were 
content to live on their great landed revenues, and did not 
need to serve the State which built up its own machine without 
them. 

Maria Theresa did not follow her advisers when they 
wished to attempt similar measures in Hungary. The principal 
Crown officers were indeed kept subordinate to Vienna, and 
important areas in the southern frontier zone were ruled 
directly as the "military border". But the principal agents of 
Habsburg rule were the greater nobles, the magnates. They 
were brought by Maria Theresa more and more into the service 
of the monarchy and the court. By living at Vienna, inter- 
marrying with the Austrian and Bohemian nobility, and having 
their children educated alongside them, the Hungarian magnates 
were largely transformed from territorial princes into courtiers. 
The extravagance of court life weakened their independence; 
some had to borrow money from the Crown; Hungarian estates 
were sold to, or conferred upon Germans. The Hungarian 
magnates could no longer separate their interests from those of 
the monarchy and came to regard the union of the Crowns as 



PRUSSIA AND AUSTRIA 127 

permanent. In as far as there was resistance to the process 
of centralization, it came from the lesser nobility, the gentry 
whose opposition was purely directed towards the retention of 
their own privileges. 

In many respects the objectives of Joseph II had been 
defined by his predecessors. But his own contribution was 
a notable one, and it is not without reason that his reign has 
been made the test case for proving the inadequency of the 
ideas of enlightened despotism. It was not want of familiarity 
with these ideas that hampered Joseph; he was widely read in 
the literature of reform, had travelled extensively, and knew 
personally most of his great contemporaries. Above all, he was 
hard-working. On the other hand he was not always happy in 
his choice of servants, though it could be argued in his defence 
that, under Austrian conditions, it was unlikely that he would 
find enough of the right men to carry out some of his more 
advanced ideas. 

In a sense very different from that which the French 
Revolution was to give to those words, Joseph's watchwords 
might have been liberty and equality. Both liberty and equality 
were devices by which the State could be strengthened. 
If Jews and Protestants were to be freed from persecution, 
and encouraged to come into Austria it might be possible 
to rival the economic success which toleration was believed 
to have brought to Prussia. If the serf could be freed and 
allowed to choose his occupation, industry would acquire 
new sources of labour. Equality meant the breaking down 
of the groupings and orders into which the social and legal 
order was divided, so that all citizens should be equally sub- 
ordinate to a strengthened bureaucracy, and equally tributary 
to the royal treasury. 

Such a policy involved the hostility of the three most 
powerful elements in society, the Church until recently 
dominant in all cultural as well as spiritual life, the nobility, and 
the privileged urban corporations such as were found in 
Belgium. It was also likely to have an unsettling effect upon 
those classes it was intended to benefit, and who would feel that 
it did not go far enough. Of this there had been ample warning 
in the preceding reign, for the first moves of Maria Theresa 



128 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

towards improving the conditions of the serfs had led to wide- 
spread peasant revolts which Joseph himself had been obliged 
to have repressed by brutal military measures. 

Joseph's reform of the administration was along familiar 
lines. A system of recruitment by merit and of security of 
tenure was worked out, and constant supervision ensured. As in 
Prussia there was a huge development of secret agents for the 
purpose of spying on the bureaucracy itself. Not content with 
reforming the machinery of government, Joseph promulgated 
an enormous amount of detailed legislation and initiated far- 
reaching inquiries and statistical surveys upon which future 
policy might be based. 

In the sphere of law the first part of a new civil code was 
promulgated in 1786, a sign of the break with the Church being 
that divorce was taken out if its hands. A new and enlightened 
penal code was promulgated in 1787, and the procedure of the 
criminal courts was reformed in 1788, with the effect of obliter- 
ating the distinction between the classes in the enforcement of 
the law. Although not all the legal reforms were lasting, the 
procedural changes were of permanent importance. 

The attack on the Church had begun before the end of 
co-regency despite the piety of Maria Theresa. Ideas of tolera- 
tion and hostility to clericalism the Deism of England, the 
Encyclopaedism of France, the Rationalism of Germany 
made their way eastwards with the Freemasons and other 
secret societies such as the Illuminati as their most militant 
exponents. At the same time the ideas of Febronius that the 
Catholic Church might be freed to some extent from Papal 
control had also made themselves felt. After 1767, the monarch's 
consent was necessary for the promulgation of Papal bulls; in 
1773, the clergy were forbidden to correspond directly with 
Rome. The suppression of the Jesuits in 1773 was of great 
significance for Austria, and even more so for Bohemia, because 
of their virtual monopoly of education. It made possible Joseph's 
own scheme of compulsory education, his founding of gymnasia 
and his reform of the Universities, which had as its primary 
purpose the provision of training for civil servants. 

Joseph's great Patent of Toleration of 1781 recognized the 
Catholic Church as the dominant one, and the one solely 



PRUSSIA AND AUSTRIA 129 

entitled to conduct worship publicly. But the right of worship in 
private was granted to Lutherans, to Calvinists and to the Greek 
Orthodox. The minor Protestant sects, numerous in Bohemia 
despite all persecution, and the Deists were excluded. The Jews 
who had previously already had a measure of toleration were 
now placed on a par with the Protestants and Orthodox. Austria 
under Joseph was the first State to encourage Jews to enter the 
productive occupations, and to obtain the normal education from 
which centuries of intolerance had almost universally excluded 
them. It was also the first State to make them liable to military 
service, now the badge of citizenship. 

Despite a personal visit from Pope Pius VI, Joseph con- 
tinued to interfere with the affairs of the Church itself, can- 
celling certain Papal bulls, making the bishops take oaths of 
obedience to him, reorganizing episcopal sees and seeing that 
they were given to natives of the country concerned. The attack 
on the Church's influence in secular matters was accompanied 
by a large-scale dissolution of monasteries and confiscation of 
their property. Since it was reckoned that the Church had held 
three-eighths of Austrian land in mortmain, the economic 
effects of this release of capital was considerable. Some of the 
monasteries' wealth went for other religious purposes or was 
used for charitable, medical or educational endowment; 
some was sold to industrialists at low prices, and so helped 
to forward the Emperor's economic policies. 

Industrialists also benefited from substantial tax remissions. 
But the fiscal policies of Joseph were intended to go much 
further. In 1789 after the completion of a new cadastral survey, 
a new tax plan was promulgated by which all land was to be 
taxed on an equal basis irrespective of whether it belonged to 
landlord and peasant. This new law signified the triumph of the 
physiocratic idea, but it was also a tremendous blow to privilege 
and one that could not be carried through. Under Leopold II, 
it was at once revoked, although the serf was still better off 
than before Joseph's changes. Meanwhile the plethora of 
economic legislation under Joseph and the heavy expenditure 
of the State, had reduced the finances to a condition much 
less favourable than at the beginning of the reign and 
brought about great stringency of credit. The reaction of the 



130 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

next reign was partly a reflection of the worsened financial 
situation. 

The changes which Joseph attempted to introduce into 
the fiscal system were closely linked to his direct attempt 
to alter the relationship between the social classes. In 1781, an 
edict emancipated the serfs of Austria and Bohemia. At a stroke 
of the pen, the serfs received freedom of movement, of marriage 
and of occupation. A labour ordinance in the following year was, 
however, designed to secure the necessary labour for the land- 
lords. In 1785 new administrative machinery was set up in the 
justices of the peace which was of use to the serf in disputes with 
his landlord. In 1789 as part of the new taxation ordinance a 
move was made in the direction of commuting labour services 
for money services among a wide category of serfs. The result 
of these reforms was another period of unrest and violence; 
those serfs who did not benefit saw no reason why they should 
be excluded from consideration. Those who were to be freed 
from service did not wait for the new laws to come into force. 
Before Joseph died he was engaged in measures to force recal- 
citrant serfs to render labour services. After his death the reaction 
gathered strength and was completed by 1798. But the feudal 
lord never recovered his right to exact unlimited labour-services 
and to that extent the shift towards commutation was 
encouraged, as it was by the increased diversification of the 
monarchy's economy generally. 

In Austria and Bohemia the resistance of the privileged 
orders to Joseph's reforms was substantial and in the case 
of the latter the Diet put forward to Leopold constitutional 
demands of some importance. But on the whole it proved 
possible to preserve the structure of the monarchy intact. 
In Hungary matters were more serious. The Magyar nobility 
objected to the religious measures, to the attack on class 
privileges to the advance of centralization, and to the introduc- 
tion of conscription. In 1783 the serfs of Transylvania were 
emancipated. A large-scale jacquerie now broke out in Hungary, 
and after the Emperor had put it down, Hungarian serfdom was 
abolished by decree in 1785. In the winter of 1788-9, the 
Hungarian Estates prepared for an armed rising. With Hungary 
refusing support for the war against Turkey, and the ever- 



PRUSSIA AND AUSTRIA 131 

present threat of Prussia on the border, Joseph was forced to 
consider compromise. A vague promise to call a Parliament was 
insufficient; and in 1790 most of the administrative innovations 
were withdrawn. The decree on serfdom never went into effect, 
and under Leopold II, the Hungarians received new guarantees 
of their autonomy. 

In Belgium resistance to Joseph's reforms came from 
two quarters. The clerical conservatives wished to restore 
the old self-government of the Netherlands through the 
Provincial Estates. The reformers welcomed some of Joseph's 
policies but wished to achieve them through constitutional 
advance and not through the machinery of a police-state. 
Joseph, in fact, ignored the wide difference between the Nether- 
lands and his Germanic lands and followed his programme 
through without making any allowance for them. The Patent 
of Toleration in 1781 aroused much opposition, but was carried 
through; the local bishops were supported in their differences 
with the Pope; an attempt was made to convert the University 
of Louvain into an agent of imperial propaganda. The changes 
in the administration and in the judiciary aroused the hostility 
of the vested interests which were disturbed by them. In 
economic policy, the same tangle between physiocratic and 
protectionist ideas made itself apparent as nearer home. Free- 
trade between the several Provinces was introduced and corpor- 
ate monopolies broken down. But external tariff policy remained 
protectionist and the Government intervened in the provision 
trades to ensure cheap supplies of food. The Estates tried to 
resist the changes by withholding grants and at the end of 
1789 declared open revolt; an independent Republic was 
proclaimed in January, 1790. Leopold II more astute than his 
predecessor, contrived a compromise which split the rebels; 
and the Catholic party who continued to resist, hoping for 
foreign aid, were suppressed by force before the end of the 
year. But by now Belgium lay wide open to the French 
Revolution. 

Leopold was thus faced during his short reign (1790-2) 
with saving what could be saved from the wreck of his brother's 
ambitious schemes. It must not be thought, however, that he 
repudiated the ideas of the enlightened despotism. As ruler of 



132 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

Tuscany after the death of his father, the Emperor Francis in 
1765, Leopold had given it what some have regarded as the best 
government of eighteenth-century Europe. This was made 
easier by the fact that the little State's relation to the Habsburg 
Empire and the absence of any other great power on the 
Italian scene had enabled it to dispense with military forces. 
The finances, the judiciary and commercial policy were run on 
the most approved lines, and something was even done for 
the serfs. Leopold actually toyed with the idea of a constitution 
(based upon that of Virginia), a project which would never have 
commended itself to his more autocratic brother. The difference 
was primarily one of political tact. It was only in the reign of 
Leopold's son Francis II, and under the impact of the French 
Revolution, that Austrian rule congealed again. The limitations 
on reform from above were set by the obvious difficulty of 
preventing it merging into revolution from below. 



CHAPTER VI 

RUSSIA AND POLAND 

"THE Age of Absolutism" in Russia may be said to have 
extended from the beginning of the personal rule of Peter the 
Great in 1689 until the assassination of Paul I in 1801. During 
this period, as has already been seen, the Russian Empire 
became an important element in the European States system 
and was increasingly opened to the technological and cultural 
impact of the West. The latter was not as novel a feature as is 
sometimes assumed; for the employment of foreign specialists 
particularly in military matters can be traced well back into 
the seventeenth century, and commercial exchanges to an even 
earlier date. Despite the Byzantine origins of its religious creed 
and organization, and despite the long interlude in its develop- 
ment when it lay under the Tartar yoke, Russia cannot be treated 
as though it were a separate universe to which none of the 
ordinary criteria of western civilization apply. As far as the 
upper classes were concerned, the cultural gap which was still 
very great when Peter and his companions so shook the not 
over-fastidious English of William Ill's London, was all but 
closed at the end of the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth 
century the educated Russian was in the mainstream of European 
development. 

For this reason it is essential not to over-emphasize the 
artificiality and superficiality of the "westernization" of 
Russia under Peter, or of the unsubstantial nature of Catherine 
IFs intellectual dalliance with the philosophes. It has been 
common to treat the history of Russia after Peter as though 
his reforms had set up some irremediable conflict within the 
soul of every individual Russian, condemning Russia to all 
eternity to swing between the poles of attraction to and repulsion 
from the West. It is symbolized in the contrast between the 
old capital, the land-locked city of Moscow and Peter's new 
capital, on the Neva, St. Petersburg, a "window on to the West", 

133 



134 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

the latter built we note, at a cost in lives which other countries 
would have considered intolerable. 

No doubt there were many Russians, particularly in the 
nineteenth century, who did, in fact, formulate their country's 
problems in these terms. But by then other factors had entered 
into the situation, notably the general increase in the importance 
attached to national cultures as a result of the French Revolu- 
tion and still more of the reaction against it. In the eighteenth 
century itself the issue was presented in rather a different 
fashion. Peter's essential object was no more far-fetched than 
that of his predecessors. Ever since the "Time of Troubles" 
in the early seventeenth century, the rulers of Russia had been 
trying to rebuild the country on foundations strong enough to 
resist thsir predatory neighbours, to recommence the ingather- 
ing of all the historic Russian lands, and to see to it that the 
southwards and eastwards spread of Russian colonization over 
the steppes of European Russia and on into Siberia was 
carried out in such a manner as to strengthen and not weaken 
the structure of the State. The last of these tasks was by no 
means the least important. Whereas the Western Powers were 
separated from their colonial problems by the breadth of the 
oceans, the Russians (like the Austrians to some extent) had 
colonies on their own doorstep. How dangerous this could be 
was shown (not for the first time) when the Pugachov rising in 
1773-5 which began among the Russian colonists of the lower 
Volga was joined further to the north by the Bashkirs and other 
indigenous peoples who resented their exploitation in the 
interests of the great iron industry of the Urals. 

It was no more artificial for Peter to seek to enhance 
the authority and power of the State by borrowing financial 
or governmental devices from abroad than to do so by imitation 
in the field of technology alone. It was only more difficult; 
because although Russia had the basic raw materials and could 
acquire or train the necessary artisans to make weapons and 
the soldiers and even sailors to use them, administrative talent 
was harder to come by at home, and aroused more resentment 
when recruited from abroad. More important still, even the 
best of the known forms of administration were only suited for 
particular social structures. That of Russia was both unlike that 



RUSSIA AND POLAND 135 

of most of the rest of Europe and highly resistant to change. 
What determined the tragic future of Russia was not a dichotomy 
in the Russian soul but a dichotomy in Russian society. The 
upper classes mainly the landed aristocracy and gentry with 
some small middle-class elements added towards the very end of 
the period were indeed "westernized" by Peter and his 
successors, at least to the extent necessary for them to take 
their share in the running of the State machine. The masses 
of the people, living within the framework of the village com- 
munity, and bound to it by serfdom were excluded from these 
developments except in so far as they supplied recruits and 
taxpayers. Between the pyramid of privilege on the one hand, 
and the dark unfathomable peasantry on the other, there was 
no intermediate class or institution to bridge the gap, or cushion 
the shock of conflict when it arose. 

The Orthodox Church was weakened by the seventeenth- 
century schism between the reforming official hierarchy and the 
"Old Believers" with their tenacious roots in the countryside. 
Dissenting sects sprang up and multiplied. The hierarchy 
itself was totally subordinated to the State, by Peter's abolition 
of the Patriarchate in 1721. Henceforward under the control of 
a lay official, the Procurator of the Holy Synod, it was little 
more than the religious department of the Government. From 
Peter's reign too began a steady encroachment of the State upon 
the management of the Church lands, and leading to their 
eventual secularization. In the middle of the century, the Church 
still owned some 900,000 serfs the real measure of wealth in a 
country richer in land than in men but in 1764, its remaining 
lands were taken over with the serfs, and annexed to the Crown. 
Russia enjoyed neither the cultural benefits of a learned clergy 
like that of the medieval West nor the salutary tension in political 
life of a genuine problem of Church and State. 

The Russian merchant class was also incapable of playing 
a role comparable to that of the urban bourgeoisie in much of 
the rest of the Continent. Its rise to commercial importance was 
hampered by the hold which foreign, particularly English, 
merchants had acquired over the country's commerce; it was 
only the mercantilist measures of Catherine II, her active 
commercial diplomacy, and her conquest of a Black Sea outlet 



136 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

for Russia's trade that redressed the balance. The merchants 
were also hindered in their attempt to share in the industrial- 
ization of the country by repeated prohibitions against the 
ownership of slaves and lands by non-nobles prohibitions 
which remained in effect until after the turn of the century, 
though devices existed for circumventing them. Urban self- 
government, though occasionally fostered in theory, was never 
an important reality in practice, so that there was for the 
urban bourgeoisie no training in self-government or in the 
exercise of political rights. 

Finally, there could be no question of the bureaucracy 
developing into a separate and creative class. The State was 
not wealthy enough to reward it except by titles of nobility 
and by the grant of lands and serfs. There was no middle class 
worth the name to buy its way into office. The Czar employed the 
nobility in the service of the State, military and civil ; the nobility 
lived on the product of its estates which were cultivated by serf- 
labour. Czar noble peasant; the elements were the same in 
the eighteenth century as in the seventeenth or the sixteenth. 
Only their relationship was more clearly defined, and the system 
a more rigid one. But the rigidity must not be over-stressed; the 
writing of history from central records may lead to a too ready 
assumption that what was true in law was true in fact; the old 
loose-jointed Muscovite society may still have persisted as a 
substratum under the apparently consolidated absolutism of 
Peter's successors. 

The wars of the seventeenth century had been crucial for 
the development of the Russian State. Their main objective was 
to win back some of the territories acquired by Poland in the 
late sixteenth century, in White Russia and Little Russia (the 
Ukraine). A third party to the conflict were the Cossacks, free 



had lived largely on forays against Turk and Tartar. From the 
end of the fifteenth century, their independent organization 
under Polish suzerainty had been acknowledged and peasants 
escaping from serfdom had built up agricultural settlements 
among them. Although hostile to Polish domination, the 
Cossacks had no wish to be assimilated to the increasingly 
depressed condition of the Russian peasantry. A revolt broke 



RUSSIA AND POLAND 137 

out among them and the peasants of Little Russia in 1648 ; and 
in 1654, the Cossacks agreed to become part of the Russian 
Empire. This precipitated a series of Russo-Polish campaigns 
which ended with lie cession to Russia of Smolensk in 1667, 
and with the Poles acknowledging Russian rule in the Ukraine 
east of the Dnieper, and over Kiev and its district on the west 
bank. Kiev was formally ceded in 1686, and the Russo-Polish 
frontier remained unchanged thereafter for almost a century, 
during which Russia's expansion was at the expense of the 
Swedes and Turks. The remainder of the Ukraine at the end of 
the seventeenth century was still divided between the Poles and 
the Turks. 

The Ukraine's hope of retaining its liberties under Russian 
rule was frustrated. The Cossack state was thought of as being 
the supreme landowner as well as a military organization. As in 
Russia proper, villages were distributed as rewards for service, 
and ownership of the land by State became theoretical. New 
villages were also created by incoming proprietors. Peasant and 
Cossack lands were alienated to large landowners and to the 
monasteries, and the fiscal burdens on the remaining free 
proprietors forced them to alienate their lands in turn. After 
Peter's victory over Charles XII at Poltava in 1709, the Cossacks 
were punished for their adherence to the Swedes by the 
cancellation of the Ukraine's autonomous status. More important 
was the fact that land confiscated from the Cossacks was handed 
over to incoming Great Russian proprietors. The lands which 
Cossack dignitaries had held in virtue of service were assimilated 
in status to the absolute ownership of the newcomers. Later 
Government attempts to keep, up the numbers of free Cossacks 
for military reasons broke down against the resistance of the 
developing autocracy of the chief officer, the Hetman and the 
colonels of the Cossack regiments. In 1764, the Hetmanate 
was abolished. In 1782 the Ukrainian nobility was incorporated 
in that of Russia. By now the free peasants who had still formed 
a third of the Ukrainian population at the death of Peter had 
disappeared. And in 1783, Ukrainian serfdom was finally 
incorporated into Russian law. 

Ukrainian developments reflect at second-hand and at an 
accelerated pace, what had been, broadly-speaking, the course 



138 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

of events in Russia proper. The expansion and foreign wars 
of the seventeenth century forced tie Czars to organize the 
country on increasingly military lines. By 1680, the country was 
divided up into military districts each with its quota of persons 
held to military service. For the equipment and training of the 
troops, it was necessary to raise greater sums through taxation, 
and the basis of assessment was shifted from land to hearths; 
that is to say to families. The State thus had the same interest as 
the landlord in preventing the movement of the peasants into 
the new areas of settlement where they might avoid both their 
military and their fiscal obligations. The measures taken 
involved the administrative grouping of taxpayers both peasant 
and urban, and the imposition upon such groups of collective 
responsibility for their assigned shares of the taxes. Russia, as 
was shown by fundamental code of laws of 1649, was a highly 
stratified class society; but in every class from noble to peasant 
the same duty of service to the State, and the same collective 
responsibility for the performance of such duties was imposed. 

In the countryside the unit for taxation corresponded with 
the landed-estate, and the landlord was given the duty of 
collecting the taxes and saddled with the responsibility for their 
payment to the central authority. Since the landlord exercised, 
in addition, important functions of justice and police, and 
represented his peasants for certain purposes in the public 
courts, his position was the key to the economic and the adminis- 
trative system alike. These developments had the result of 
merging the hitherto numerous class of free peasants with that of 
the serfs from whom labour services were exacted. The class of 
actual slaves which had existed earlier was also in Peter's reign 
assimilated into that of the serfs. 

The legislation of the State did not define the extent of 
the rights of the lords to the labour of their serfs which was 
regulated by custom, and was confined to measures for the 
recovery of runaways. On the whole there was a steady deteriora- 
tion in the position of the serfs; and in the eighteenth century, 
although no general right of sale was recognized, serfs could be 
sold even apart from their lands and families. Serf-owners were 
allowed to inflict increasingly arduous punishments. The edict 
of 18th February, 1762, completed the process of taking the 



RUSSIA AND POLAND 139 

regulation of serfdom out of the realm of public law altogether 
and making it a private institution. There was, of course, a 
distinction between the privately owned serfs and those owned 
by the Crown, the State-serfs. In 1797, there were about 
19,500,000 privately owned serfs, and about 14,500,000 State 
serfs. In contradistinction to the areas of colonization in' southern 
Russia, private serfdom was never extended to Siberia. 

The proportion of privately owned serfs in Russia to the 
general population was not as great as in some other European 
countries, for instance Prussia or Denmark, but it is held 
that the condition of the serfs was more onerous. No doubt 
there were considerable variations in the position of the 
serfs if only because of the great variations in the size of 
the landed-estates; in 1777, 32 per cent of the proprietors 
owned less than ten serfs, 27 per cent from ten to twenty, 
25 per cent from twenty to a hundred and 16 per cent over 100 
each. As in the case of the slave-owners of the American South, 
in the next century, the tendency would seem to have been in 
the direction of larger units. Within the village-community itself 
the size of the holdings also tended towards greater variation. 

These facts are relevant to the unusual role that serfdom 
played in industrial development in eighteenth-century Russia. 
As might be expected, the State supplied the driving force, 
particularly under Peter. His reign was a pioneering one, 
particularly in metallurgy. Its organization in the Urals varied 
between direct State management by Russian functionaries like 
Tatistchev or foreigners like the Saxon, Hennin, and the 
encouragement of private enterprise such as that which brought 
wealth and eventual nobility to the Demidov family of iron- 
masters. In either case the essential point was the ascription 
of peasants to perform the many ancillary tasks connected 
with the provision of fuel and with transport. In the older 
industrial areas of central Russia also serf-labour was largely 
used in industry by entrepreneurs drawn from the nobility to 
whom in Peter's reign the privilege of using serf-labour was 
rigidly confined. Serfs might be allowed to work in the industrial 
enterprises of someone other than their owner upon the pay- 
ment of compensation to him for the loss of their services. 
Some were actually owned and run by serfs who had made 



140 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

money through usury and trade and who paid dues to the land- 
lord out of their profits. The State in its enterprises also made 
use of peasant-artisans accepting their product* in lieu of the 
customary labour-services. 

The industrial projects of Peter's reign did not all fructify; 
capital was short in Russia though some was put into industry 
out of profits made by foreigners trading there. It has even been 
held that there was an absolute decline in industrial production 
after his death which lasted until the new and decisive move 
forward in the 1760s, though recent inquiries do not support 
this view. The country had become a single unit from the 
customs' point of view in 1754 and the internal market was now 
an increasingly important one. The organization of industry in 
the latter half of the century was mainly on capitalist lines, and 
the competition for its control between merchants and nobles, 
in which the former enjoyed the patronage of the Crown, ended 
decisively in their favour. The prohibitions on the ownership of 
serfs by merchants which had been relaxed at the end of Peter's 
reign were indeed reimposed in the middle of the century, but 
by now they were relatively unimportant, since serf-labour was 
no longer so essential. Serfs were attached to factories but were, 
in fact, wage-earners so that their legal status was not significant. 
On the other hand, serfdom in Russia generally speaking was 
by no means on the decline. Catherine added 800,000 private 
serfs to the number through the gifts of State lands to her 
favourites, and another 600,000 were added under Paul. The 
armies which thrust back the invading French in 1812 were 
drawn from a society in which the basic relationship was still 
that between serf and serf-owner. 

In such circumstances it is surprising to find that Russia 
remained an autocracy and that while social power went with 
the ownership of land, this was not true of political power. It 
is doubtful whether the reason for this fact is to be sought in 
the history of the dynasty or in that of the nobility; certainly 
the Russian royal house was not immune from the accidents of 
human mortality which were, as we have seen, so inseparable 
from the whole practice of monarchical absolutism. 

The reign of the Czar Alexis from 1645 to 1676, though it 
saw a number of local risings including the formidable peasant 



RUSSIA AND POLAND 141 

revolt under Stenka Razin centred in the newly settled region 
of the lower Volga and Don, enhanced the prestige and 
popularity of the Romanov dynasty. The short reign of his 
successor, Theodore (1676-82), was followed by a period of 
some confusion since Alexis' two remaining sons, Ivan and 
Peter, were still minors. As usual in such circumstances, 
the great court families, particularly those linked with the 
royal house by marriage, tried to take advantage of the situation 
for their own ends. The still virulent hostility felt in some 
quarters against the Orthodox hierarchy for its recent reforms 
added to the problems of government. Eventually, the boys' 
sister Sophia, called in the Streltsi, the praetorian guard of the 
Muscovite Czars, and got a hastily summoned Sobor, or 
Assembly of Notables, to elect her brothers as co-Czars with 
herself as regent for them. 

In 1689, the younger boy, Peter, with the aid of an armed 
coup by his own partisans, put an end to the regency and 
assumed personal power; though co-Czar Ivan lingered on in 
nominal equality with him until his death seven years later. 
Despite the concentration of Peter's efforts upon the modern- 
ization and westernization of the Russian State, the settlement 
of the succession eluded him, owing to the fatal upshot of his 
quarrel with his elder son, Alexis, and the death in infancy of 
his younger son. In 1722, Peter announced that he would 
decide the succession himself but died without appointing an 
heir. In the following period, the r61e that the Streltsi (whom 
Peter had destroyed) had played earlier was taken over by 
the Guards regiments, his own creation. 

The Guard on this occasion decided in favour of Peter's 
widow, his second wife, Catherine, a Lithuanian peasant by 
origin, instead of the young Peter, Alexis* son. On the death 
of Catherine I in 1727, Peter II was put forward by a group 
among the aristocracy. When he died in 1730, another aristo- 
cratic faction attempted to keep themselves in power by 
forging a will in which the Czar was supposed to have left the 
throne to his affianced bride, a member of the great house of 
Dolgorouki. 

The Supreme Privy Council with the support of other 
notables set both this claim aside and the claims of the 



142 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

two daughters of Peter I, in favour of Anna, daughter of 
Peter I's long forgotten brother Ivan V and widow of the Duke 
of Courland. It was at this juncture that the Russian nobles 
made their supreme bid to turn the country into a crowned 
republic on the model of Sweden or Poland by presenting 
Anna with a set of constitutional limitations as the price of 
her accession. Once she had ascended the throne, however, 
these constitutional provisions were easily set aside with 
the support of the Guards' officers who were recruited from 
the lesser nobility which had no liking for the pretensions 
of the court aristocracy. 

After a reign notable for the domination of Russia by 
Anna's German favourites the beginning of the large r6le 
of the "Baltic Barons" in later Russian history the Empress 
died in 1740 leaving the throne by will to her infant grand- 
nephew, Ivan VI. A troubled period of regency was ended by 
a new coup on the part of the Guards who now brought to the 
throne, Elizabeth, daughter of Peter I, who was regarded as a 
national candidate in opposition to the Germanic influences 
that had waxed so strong in the previous reigns. Russian 
favourites now replaced German ones; and the nobility reached 
the apex of its influence in this period and fortified its position 
by the legislation of Elizabeth's ill-fated nephew and successor, 
Peter III. 

After only six months, yet another conspiracy among the 
Guards overthrew Peter (who was subsequently murdered) in 
favour of his German wife, the Empress Catherine II. After 
consolidating her position which remained precarious for some 
years, she dominated Russia and the whole of eastern Europe 
for a quarter of a century, being succeeded peacefully by her 
son, Paul I, in 1796. The half-crazy Paul was pnly permitted 
to survive for four and a half years, when a palace plot resulted 
in his assassination, and in the accession of his son Alexander I. 
Yet despite this long succession of conspiracies and assassina- 
tions, the monarchy survived with unimpaired strength. After 
the failure of the oligarchical party at the time of the accession of 
Anna, there was indeed no serious attempt at diluting the royal 
power; and the institutions through which it expressed itself 
remained substantially those created by Peter I. 



RUSSIA AND POLAND 143 

Peter's approach was dominated by fiscal considerations. 
In the earlier part of his reign attempts were made to increase 
the use of the municipal machinery for the raising of taxes. 
A number of new departments were created for military, 
police and supply purposes and were endowed with separate 
sources of revenue. An attempt was made to simplify local 
administration by dividing the country up into a number of 
provinces, or governorships. Again the purpose was mainly to 
create machinery for the raising and supplying of troops. The 
old central fiscal machinery at Moscow was reduced to purely 
local significance. But even with the multiplication of indirect 
taxes, recourse to state-trading and the debasement of the 
coinage, the financial problem remained unsolved. 

A second and more fundamental bout of reforms were 
carried through in the years 1718-22 and were partly inspired by 
a desire to check the depopulation which had been shown to be 
going on in parts of the country, owing to the weight of the 
fiscal burdens imposed. The unit of assessment was now 
altered from the hearth to the individual; but responsibility 
remained collective. With the aid of the new direct taxes, the 
profits of the mint and the salt-tax and with the addition of the 
revenues of the conquered provinces, the budget was re- 
balanced. At the same time, the amount of trade done directly 
by the State was cut down in favour of encouraging private 
industry and commerce by the customary mercantilist devices of 
tariffs, subsidies and privileges with regard to taxation. But 
control over economic life was by no means relaxed. 

Just as the fiscal and commercial policies adopted by 
Peter were largely copied from foreign models and bear a 
close resemblance to those of the German rulers and their 
"cameralist" advisers, so his administrative reforms of this 
period were based largely on foreign, in this case, Swedish 
models. In an effort to check the confusion caused by the over- 
decentralization of responsibility earlier in the reign, and as a 
substitute for the old Council of Magnates which had declined 
with the decline of the old class of magnates or "Boyars", Peter 
had created a new institution, the Senate, composed of a number 
of senior officials, and this was gradually, though with difficulty, 
turned into a permanent and vital part of the system, dealing 



144 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

with matters of policy, the preparation of laws as well as 
exercising appellate jurisdiction. 

The overlapping system of central departments was tidied 
up into a number of "colleges" nine in all each headed by 
a board with a President, and working to a precise system of 
regulations under the general supervision of the Senate. 
The colleges had largely to be staffed by foreigners, and after 
1722 when most of these were dispensed with, the collegiate 
form became more and more nominal, with real power in the 
hands of the Presidents. 

An important new office instituted in 1722 was that of 
procurator-general. This official was to preside over the 
Senate in the Czar's absence and supervise its activities. 
Through his own procurators attached to the colleges, these 
too were brought under his control. Finally he was placed at 
the head of the new revenue officers in the provinces, created 
in 1708 and known as fiscals. The office was thus an 
important weapon against any form of obstruction to the 
royal wishes. 

In local administration, Peter now abandoned the scheme 
of ten vast provinces created by him in 1708, and divided up 
the country into fifty "governments'* subdivided into districts, 
each with an elaborate administrative machinery at least on 
paper. Finally, he attempted to separate justice from adminis- 
tration as in Sweden, by placing the local courts under the 
control of the central college of justice instead of the local 
governors. But this idea ran counter to the accepted practices 
of the country, and the bureaucracy retained its hold over the 
administration of justice at least on the local level. A new source 
of overlapping authority was introduced by the setting up of 
military districts to deal with conscription and the poll-tax, for 
these were quite distinct from the ordinary provincial "govern- 
ments". An attempt in 1721 to develop the system of urban 
self-government set up in 1699 as a part of the fiscal changes 
was as ineffective as most of the other changes in local govern- 
ment. The towns were controlled by a new college added for the 
purpose to the central administration; and die burdens of 
tax-collecting and policing imposed upon them were too heavy 
to encourage any real spirit of independence or initiative. 



RUSSIA AND POLAND 145 

In fact, most of Peter's reforms in local administration broke 
down very shortly after his death, and a more fundamental 
reorganization had to await the reign of Catherine II. Despite 
all the elaborate machinery thus created, Peter himself showed 
to the end his preference for direct compulsion through the 
arbitrary and unrestrained use of brutal punishments on high 
and low alike, and for governing through the instrumentality 
of individual guards officers picked out to enforce his wishes 
whenever and wherever necessary. After his death in 1725, a 
new Supreme Council was created in which the sovereign's 
autocratic power was in some sense institutionalized, and this 
rather than the Senate became the real political authority in 
the country. But the ruler's personal authority remained for 
such as chose to and could exercise it. 

This system of government was imposed upon a people 
whose consent to it was not taken for granted. Characteristic 
among Peter's legacies was the Preobrajensky Prikaz, the depart- 
ment of political police. Dissolved by Peter II, it was revived 
under Anna as the Secret Chancellery. It was an essential arm 
of despotism. 

The essential reason why Peter's reforms fell short of 
his models and why Catherine's "enlightened despotism" 
in its turn was only limited in its achievements, must again 
be looked for in the history of Russian society rather than 
of Russian government. It was not only the peasantry whose 
future was shaped by the pressure of the Petrine State; the 
same was true of the nobility whose history in this period is in 
many respects the clue to the whole Russian situation. 

The Russian nobility composed of the descendants of the 
old ruling family, the House of Rurik, of members of non- 
Russian princely families, of the Muscovite Boyars, and of 
the new nobility of service created in the sixteenth century, 
formed a landed class of a peculiar kind. Its estates constantly 
subdivided in the absence of any system of primogeniture, and 
owning their origin by now mainly to gifts from the Czar were 
sources of revenue rather than of social prestige or political 
influence. The purpose of such revenues was to enable members 
of this class to serve the Crown in the military and civil sphere. 
As in the case of the serfs an original diversity of conditions was 



146 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

hardened by the Petrine legislation into a rigid system based 
upon the needs of the State as Peter saw them. 

A beginning had been made by Czar Theodore in 1682 
when he had abolished the complicated system of precedence 
which had been not only a source of strife among the different 
noble families but also a source of weakness in the imperial 
service. Under Peter the old obligation of nobles to appear in 
arms with their followers a sort of feudal levy was abolished 
in favour of a direct personal obligation to serve as an officer or 
civil servant an obligation which began at fifteen and was 
intended to last for life. Under the strict logic of the system as 
Peter intended it, the rights of the landlords over their serfs thus 
derived solely from the services which they themselves were in 
turn called upon to give to the State. By the celebrated edict of 
1722 all the servants of the Crown were divided into fourteen 
ranks on parallel civil and military ladders of promotion; and 
access to the higher ranks brought with it hereditary nobility. 
It was on paper at least a formidable combination of a caste 
society with the "career open to talents". 

The history of Russia in the eighteenth century consists 
largely in the effort of the nobility to escape from their obliga- 
tions while retaining and, in a large measure, extending their 
privileges. As the crisis at the accession of the Empress Anna 
showed, this class ambition was of much greater importance to 
most of the nobles than any political rights. Peter had 
endeavoured to prevent nobles retreating to their own share of 
their patrimonial estates by introducing in 1714 the practice of 
entail (though without primogeniture). In this respect, too, the 
nobles did their best, and on the whole successfully, to circum- 
vent the Czar's wishes; and the law was ultimately rescinded. 
In 1736, universal and permanent service to the State was 
abolished. The period of twenty-five years was fixed as the 
duration of a noble's obligation to the State, and in the case of 
more than one son in a family, one might be altogether freed so 
as to look after the family's estates. The participation of Russia 
in the Seven Years' War brought with it a ferment of new ideas 
through the return of officers from foreign service a recurrent 
feature of Russian history. During the brief reign of Peter III, 
the obligation to serve was by the edict of 1762 finally abolished 



RUSSIA AND POLAND 147 

except for times of grave national emergency. It was true that all 
sorts of effective pressures still existed to make a period of 
service the normal thing for members of the noble class. But 
the edict of 1762 did mean, at least for the lesser nobility, 
an exodus from the capital to the provinces, and the beginning 
of a genuine Russian provincial society. Under Catherine 
this provincial society formed the basis for the corporative 
organization of the provincial nobility which gave them a 
certain role though necessarily a subordinate one in the 
running of local affairs. By the same document as set up 
this organization, the so-called Charter of the Nobility of 
1785, various personal economic and legal privileges of the 
nobility were guaranteed for the future. When this emanci- 
pation is considered in connexion with the increased burdens 
placed upon the serfs over the same period, the contrast 
between western and eastern Europe in the eighteenth 
century can be observed at its most dramatic. Four years after 
Catherine's Charter of the Nobility, the French National 
Assembly swept away once and for all the legal foundations of 
French feudalism. 

Poland in the seventeenth century provided the classical 
example of a State whose territory (second in size to Russia 
alone) provided no indication of her real political weight. 
Much is made and rightly of the devastation to which the wars 
of the first half of the century exposed her, thanks largely to 
the ambitions of her Vasa monarchs and her constant conflicts 
in consequence of them with Sweden, Russia and Turkey. In 
the latter part of the century, too, the famous exploit of King 
John Sobieski in 1683 when his Polish army relieved Vienna 
from the besieging Turks brought no particular benefit to his 
own country. But the failure of Poland to recover from the 
effects of war must be ascribed to social and institutional 
weaknesses which go back to the golden age of the united 
kingdom of Poland and Lithuania in the sixteenth century, and 
even earlier. 

For it was in the fifteenth century that Poland lost her hold 
on the Black Sea; and the decay of the trans-continental 
trade-route through Poland brought with it a progressive decay 
of urban life and a total subordination of the towns to the 



148 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

landed gentry. The opening up of the Vistula as the main 
trading artery of the country enabled an important export 
trade in grain, flax and forest products to be carried on with 
the West. The beneficiaries of this development were, however, 
the greater landed-proprietors who reduced the bulk of the 
population to more and more onerous serfdom for the supply 
of labour or wage-service on their demesnes. The legislation of 
the State, dominated by the landowning class assisted in the 
consolidation of serfdom. 

These economic changes were paralleled in the political 
sphere. The Polish monarchy was unable to find any force in 
the country on which to lean, to balance against the over- 
weening power of the landed classes who were fully in control 
of the avenues to Church as well as secular preferment. The 
idea of elective kingship which had left little but vestiges 
in most of Europe was consolidated in Poland and in a form, 
that of mass-election by the whole of the gentry present 
many thousands in some cases which did not conduce to 
regularity in the proceedings or dispassionate wisdom in the 
choice. In addition, ever since 1573, the monarch had been 
obliged on his accession to sign a series of constitutional 
instruments, known as the pacta conventa which increasingly 
placed limitations even on his remaining powers and rights. 

The House of Deputies of the Polish Diet was not a central- 
izing Parliament but rather a meeting of delegates from the 
local assemblies of the gentry or Dietines with whom lay most 
of what real authority existed, administrative, judicial and even 
fiscal. The conception of the Diet as simply a meeting of 
delegates bound by their instructions explains the liberum veto, 
the demand that all decisions should be unanimous, and the 
far-fetched corollary that any one member could by his negative 
dissolve the Diet and nullify all its proceedings. The Upper 
House or Senate consisted of the major dignitaries of the realm, 
lay and spiritual. A number of them, the Senators-Resident, 
were deputed to form the Kong's Council between the biennial 
ordinary Diets; though the whole Senate or an extraordinary 
Diet could be summoned when necessary. 

The only remedy in the case of the anarchy and helplessness 
to which the liberum veto might reduce the State was the 



RUSSIA AND POLAND 149 

formation of a Confederation, an assembly of armed nobles with 
their followers who with or without the King might 
exercise authority and even call a Diet to get necessary measures 
promulgated. During the interregna between the death of one 
monarch and the election of his successor Confederations were 
the only source of authority. Their formation was possible 
because of the leadership of certain of the greater families. 
For although the fiction of the equality of the entire landed 
class was maintained and titles on the western model rejected, 
there was, in fact, a world of difference between the great 
landowners, the Palatines, the mere squires, and finally the 
landless gentry who lived as hangers-on of the Palatines. Their 
presence was indeed essential to the great state kept by their 
patrons. The history of Poland in the eighteenth century is 
largely one of the rivalry between the largest of these connexions, 
that of the Czartoryskis, the "Family" as they were known, and 
their rivals, the Potockis, with the other ancient families linked 
to them. 

The Polish constitution was somewhat modified by the 
Statute of 1717, the outcome of the Czar's mediation between 
his prot6g6, the first King of the Saxon dynasty, Augustus the 
Strong, and a formidable opposing confederation. The Statute 
further enhanced the position of the Senators-Resident and 
confirmed the he'piessness of the monarch in the hands of the 
ruling oligarchy. Something was done to reduce the fiscal 
powers of the Dietines and to provide permanent taxes upon 
which the regular army that Poland now relied on could subsist. 
But the size of the army as fixed, 1-8,000 for Poland and 6,000 
for Lithuania (which was always separately administered) was 
too small for it to protect Poland from continuing to be what 
it had been in the Great Northern War, a helpless field for its 
neighbours' warring armies and ambitions. Confederations were 
prohibited for the future; a vain hope. Nothing was done to 
tackle the real weaknesses of the constitution until the country 
was touched by the ideas of the enlightened despotism in the 
ill-fated reign of Stanislas Augustus. 

The eighteenth-century Polish kings were thus helpless 
prisoners of the country's political system. Not only did 
they depend upon the Diet for all legislation and for finance, 



ISO THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

but they had no control over the administration. The principle 
that officials were irremovable was maintained; and new offices 
or a reassignment of duties were an affair of the Diet. The 
Senate which incorporated the heads of the official hierarchy 
provided a further check on the royal will. In the provinces, the 
sheriffs or starosta originally instituted as direct royal agents 
emancipated themselves from this control also. It is not sur- 
prising that Augustus the Strong should have contemplated 
handing over portions of his unwieldy realm to its enemies in 
return for help in making him a real king. 

Augustus was unsuccessful in that Russia, the most powerful 
of Poland's neighbours, was content for a time to keep it as a 
vassal State, rather than permit others to join in sharing 
the spoils. The religious discrimination against Orthodox 
and Protestants also gave both Russia and Prussia an excuse 
for intervention whenever this should prove necessary. The 
increasing intolerance of the Poles during this period of 
national decline and increasing xenophobia made excuses for 
such intervention easy to find. 

Efforts to shake the Russian domination of the country 
were made but these could only be successful in the existing 
condition of things with foreign aid. Charles XII of Sweden 
failed to supplant Augustus the Strong by Stanislas 
Leszcaynski; and after the former's death, Leszczynski, 
father-in-law of Louis XV, inevitably became the candidate of 
the French-backed national party in the Convention of 1733. 
But Russian backing for the Saxon claimant was sufficient to 
turn the scales and the war of the Polish Succession could not 
affect the local situation. Under Augustus III there was more 
talk of reform and more intrigues by the Polish noble factions 
but nothing could be done while Poland's friends were further 
away than her oppressors. In the Seven Years' War, Polish 
neutrality was totally disregarded; and from 1757, Russian 
troops were stationed in the country permanently. Upon the 
death of Augustus III in 1763, the "Saxon period" came to an 
end. But although the new King, Stanislas Poniatowski (Stanislas 
Augustus) was a Pole (a connexion of the Czartoryskis), and 
in some ways the most talented Pole of his generation, he 
owed his election to none of these things, but to the simple 



RUSSIA AND POLAND 151 

fact that he had at an early age been admitted to the favours 
of the great Catherine. That the Polish throne was a suitable 
recompense for the discarded lover of a Russian Empress was a 
comment at once on the workings of the dynastic principle and 
on existing power-relations in eastern Europe. If this is what 
happened to the crowned republic, it is not surprising that 
absolutism had its appeal to political reformers. The subsequent 
reform movement culminating in the new Constitution of 1791 
came too late. 



CHAPTER VII 

THE MARITIME POWERS AND THE 
AMERICAN REVOLUTION 

THE penetration of the absolutist regimes of eighteenth- 
century Europe by the ideas of the enlightenment provides 
the central interest of the long period of peace on the Continent 
between 1763 and the outbreak of an even greater cycle of wars 
in 1792. Some countries stood apart from the general trend to 
a greater or lesser extent: Italy outside Lombardy, Piedmont, 
Tuscany, and Naples under Charles III; the Swiss Cantons of 
which the most important, Berne and Zurich like Geneva 
were the homes of tight urban oligarchies; and as already seen, 
parts of Germany. Even countries relatively remote from the 
main currents of opinion underwent substantial renovation: 
Sweden under Gustavus III from 1772-92, and Denmark 
after the initial impulse given by the brief domination of the 
German physician Struensee from 1770-2. But it should be 
remembered that as far as the Great Powers were concerned 
the results of reform were still measured in military not in 
welfare terms. Prussia with an army of 186,000 in 1771 
(capable of being raised to 218,000 in wartime) made the 
running; and this on a population of 5,000,000. Austria, 
France and Russia, with their far greater populations, could 
put no more men in the field. Foreign policy was governed 
by notions of balance to which, where necessary, smaller or 
weaker Powers could be sacrificed as Poland was in the parti- 
tions. More significant for the future was an event with 
which these great land-powers were only indirectly connected 
the American Revolution. 

The American Revolution was not, of course, a revolution 
against any form of absolutism; it took place within another 
political and social constellation, the world of overseas com- 
merce and sea-power. The difference repeatedly emphasized 
between the essential characteristics of eastern and western 

152 



MARITIME POWERS 153 

Europe, is magnified when we turn to the maritime powers on 
the western periphery. Of the Continental Great Powers, 
France had had an overseas Empire, and had lost much of it 
largely because of the inability of the structure of the French 
State to adapt itself to imperial tasks; Spain and Portugal still 
retained Empires, but precariously. It was England and Holland 
that gave the world an example of the close link that could exist 
between home politics and overseas commerce. They were to 
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries what Venice and 
Genoa had been to the age of the crusades. The English reader 
will hardly need to be told how different was English society in 
the "age of Johnson" from the societies of France or Spain, 
Russia or Austria. Administration and politics took on a different 
colour from the different societies in which they functioned. The 
fact that power in England meant primarily sea-power, and 
hence something closely related to maritime enterprise was 
itself bound to create differences when compared with countries 
forced to divert men and money from productive work to 
drilling and the building of land fortifications. But if a symbol of 
the contrast is to be looked for, the bank-note will do as 
well as any. Public credit in a country like the Russia of 
Catherine the Great was created by the fiat of the ruler. 
Russian paper-money was acceptable because the State was 
stable but it bore no genuine relation to savings. In England and 
Holland, credit was created as the result of commercial enter- 
prise and could be commanded by governments enjoying the 
confidence of the commercial classes. The link between public 
opinion and hence politics on the one hand and finance and 
administration of the other, was a close one, and one that could 
be productive in great strength. In this respect France which 
suffered throughout the eighteenth century from its deficient 
financial machinery was much closer to eastern Europe than to 
England. 

In the seventeenh century England and Holland had 
waged war against each other for predominance in northern 
and colonial waters. But after the accession of William III to 
the English throne their policies ran closely parallel for more 
than half a century. The strain of the war with Louis XIV 
and that of maintaining the Dutch position as a Great Power 



154 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

thereafter was heavy; and a period of economic decline set in. 
In particular the Dutch monopoly of the carrying trade was 
broken into by Bremen, Hamburg and Denmark. But this 
process took time to make its effect felt, and meanwhile it was to 
some extent masked by the fact that Amsterdam retained its 
importance as a banking centre and was indeed of fundamental 
importance in the development of the British financial system, 
The capitalists of Amsterdam found that British government 
securities and bank-stock offered a higher rate of interest than 
did investment in native industry. As late as 1776 it was 
estimated by the British Prime Minister, Lord North, that three- 
sevenths of the British national debt was held in Holland. 
Dutchmen also lent money privately in England on mortgage, 
and after 1750 in the British sugar islands of the West Indies. 
Also important was the fact that exchange transactions were so 
largely carried on through Amsterdam, and in Dutch money; 
there was for instance no direct rate for exchanging British 
and Russian currency despite the importance of Anglo-Russian 
trade in the eighteenth century. In the great wars of the middle 
of the century, it was through Dutch financial houses that Britain 
paid for continental armies. Despite the Orange restoration in 
1747, a certain coldness set in latterly between Holland and 
England as the pro-French "patriot" party rose to power, but 
the interlocking of the two financial systems continued until 
the fourth Anglo-Dutch war of 1780 when Holland's con- 
sequent vulnerability was dramatically revealed. 

The British political system of the eighteenth century, 
an oligarchy with certain popular elements, was one which 
faithfully reflected the existing distribution of wealth and social 
prestige, and thus secured at least the passive acquiescence of 
the overwhelming part of the people. Despite the advanced 
nature of the British economy and financial organization and the 
country's relative tolerance in matters of religion, English 
institutions retained some impress of an earlier age. The power 
of important privileged groups, while less clearly marked in law 
than on the Continent, was still the main feature of politics. 
Serfdom had long been a thing of the past, as was its economic 
counterpart, labour-services. The manor, where it existed, was 
an economic and social unit rather than an administrative one. 



MARITIME POWERS 155 

But what the owners of the land had lost as individuals they had 
on the whole retained as a class. The system of justices of 
the peace gave them almost unchallenged control of local 
government, and of the local administration of justice: where 
such things as the game-laws were concerned this was not 
unimportant. Controlling the militia, they had no cause to 
fear that the State might use the small standing army to 
their disadvantage, the less in that the latter was officered 
from their midst. To some extent the common division 
between the great magnates with their readier access to 
political influence and commercial affluence and the rural 
squirearchy existed in England also, and was not without its 
effect on the parliamentary scene. But the land was a unifying 
factor too great for the split to develop dangerously. 

More unusual and more important were the intimate links 
between land on the one hand, and commerce and finance on 
the other. The fertilization of the countryside by commercial, 
professional and industrial wealth was no new thing; and with 
the expansion of industry and the growth of London, mineral 
royalties and rents began to be the reality behind the fortunes 
of some members of what looked like a true landed aristocracy. 

It was the unity of interests of those with property, rather 
than the paper guarantees won from the Stuart monarchs 
and confirmed by the accession of the House of Hanover, that 
made it impossible for any English ruler to contemplate a 
despotism on the continental model. Those who believed 
that economic progress and social justice could only be obtained 
by authoritarian methods had no reason to admire English 
institutions, and their continental vogue was among would-be 
conservatives such as Montesquieu rather than among the 
radicals of the next generation. A characteristic feature of these 
institutions was the difficulty of drawing a clear line between 
public and private interests. Bodies like the Bank of England 
and the East India Company served both; the battles among the 
stockholders of the latter, and the fight for fortunes in India out 
of which these arose, were directly reflected in Parliament, and 
in the last resort decided there. The business of Parliament was 
again both public and private the latter exemplified in the 
private enclosure bills by which the agrarian revolution was 



156 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

carried through. So too, although the public service possessed 
a core of permanent devoted and quasi-professional employees 
in such departments as the admiralty and the board of trade, it 
also offered many sinecures that were no more than claims on 
the public purse, while both genuine offices and sinecures were 
regarded as the legitimate sphere of patronage, and as the 
proper cement of political association. The cry of corruption 
raised against Whig magnates and King in turn was normally 
the cry of those who regarded themselves as improperly excluded 
from sharing in these fruits. 

There were two further reasons why England underwent 
no experience to correspond with the absolutisms of the 
Continent, at least not in the eighteenth century the earlier age 
of Stafford and Laud is another story. The first reason was that 
some of the work which was done or attempted on the Continent 
had already been done or was unnecessary in England: England 
was already a single market with no restrictions on internal 
movement: its State Church did not depend on Rome: its 
monasteries had been dissolved, and their wealth allowed to 
circulate in the common pool. Social amelioration was taken 
care of, no doubt inadequately but by no means negligibly, by 
local regulation or private philanthropy, the latter spurred on 
as the century progressed by an increasing number of tender 
consciences. Learning had its Radcliffe and Sloane; charity, its 
Coram and Oglethorpe. In the second place, the system pro- 
duced until late in the day few serious and irreconcilable critics. 
The established Church was deeply intertwined in its outlook, 
machinery and personnel with the landed classes, and had no 
need to fear disestablishment nor even disendowment at t>* 
hands of its patrons. Protestant dissent was the object of some 
discrimination, but not sufficient to cause it to challenge a regime 
under which its adherents were unhampered either in their 
worship or in their temporal pursuits. Roman Catholics were 
more seriously incommoded, but their numbers were small and 
they formed a cave rather than an opposition. The secular 
intellectuals lacked any serious reason for the disaffection with 
the existing order which so strongly affected their compeers in 
France. The press was relatively free increasingly so and 
patrons in all sections of the ruling class and in all political 



MARITIME POWERS 157 

parties could be found by the young writer of talent. He was not 
the social equal of the magnates but he need not fear chastise- 
ment from their lackeys. Despite the cosmopolitan nature of 
eighteenth-century culture the differences in the circumstances 
of its producers was profound. Compare the life of Voltaire 
with that of Dr. Johnson, or imagine how Rousseau might 
have turned out if like Burke, he had had a Rockingham. 

Eighteenth-century England presents an idyllic picture 
only to the sentimentalist. Brutality, vice and crime were 
endemic in the squalor of parts of the metropolis: and poverty 
in the countryside strained social peace in years of scarcity and 
high prices. The criminal law was harsh, and harsh in execution. 
The increasing wealth of the community did not benefit all 
sections equally. By twentieth-century standards the age was 
callous towards personal misfortune. But as a working political 
system that of eighteenth-century England stands up to most 
tests. The fact that it was to survive almost unchanged the deep 
upheaval of the agricultural and industrial revolutions, the 
revolutionary contagion of France, and the strain of the 
revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, and then to undergo 
without a formal breach with the past the democratic reforms 
of the nineteenth century is eloquent enough. 

The weaknesses of the English polity in the eighteenth 
century were on the external side. The Tudors had done 
their work well enough in Wales for no fear to be felt on that 
side. With Scotland, the Union had been harder to maintain. 
In the end the commercial opportunities and the personal 
careers open within it had been sufficient to enlist the support 
of the lowlands, and the highly artificial nature of the Scottish 
representative system made that country's representatives in 
Parliament the obedient servants of the government of the day. 
In the highlands it was different. The clan system persisted there 
as an increasingly uneasy anachronism not only in Britain but in 
Europe. The rebellion of 1745, too frequently described in 
terms of personal loyalties, should perhaps be interpreted as the 
last desperate flicker of armed resistance to change: thereafter 
the Government with the chiefs turned landed magnates as its 
often willing accomplices, stamped out the clan system for good, 
and subjected the highlands to the common discipline of a 



158 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

unitary state. Ireland, however, remained conquered but 
unabsorbed. It presented a problem which bore certain resem- 
blances with that with which Hungary presented the 
Habsburgs, but the problem was complicated by a greater 
bitterness in the religious divisions between the mass of 
the peasantry, the Presbyterian north-east, and the Anglican 
landowning class. It might have been possible, had political 
considerations alone been given weight, to have staked every- 
thing on strengthening the Protestant ascendancy so that it 
should identify its fortunes wholly with those of England: in that 
case Irish nationalism presumably might have been delayed like 
some of the peasant nationalisms of eastern Europe until the 
nineteenth or even the twentieth century. This could not 
be done because certain economic interests in England were 
determined to use their political power to prevent Irish com- 
petition. Thus right through the eighteenth century the 
national interests of Ireland as a whole were voiced by the 
enfranchised and in a sense alien minority, as for instance 
by Swift. Neither the increased legislative devolution of 
1782, northe legislative and commercial union of 1800, unaccom- 
panied as it was by Catholic emancipation, provided a solution 
for the relations of the two countries: nor indeed has the 
subsequent century and a half provided one. 

The Irish problem was an old one dating in one form 
or another almost to the very beginnings of English history: 
the American problem on the contrary was almost invisible at 
the beginning of the eighteenth century, and by its end was 
a foreign rather than a domestic one. In 1750, the British 
colonies on the North American mainland the nucleus of 
the future United States formed only part of a single overseas 
Empire, governed from London according to a single set 
of principles. (India was a thing apart.) It has been estimated 
that those so ruled, of many colours, and scattered over four 
continents, numbered some 15,000,000. The share of North 
America was perhaps 1,250,000, although its population was 
growing rapidly, by natural increase, by free or indentured 
immigration, and by the import of negro slaves. By the eve 
of independence in 1775, it may have reached 2,500,000; 
of these perhaps 1,300,000 persons (including 57,000 negroes) 



MARITIME POWERS 159 

were to be found in the northern, New England group 
(Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode 
Island) and in the middle group (New York, New Jersey, 
Pennsylvania and Delaware) and 1,200,000 (including 500,000 
negroes) in the south (Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and 
Georgia). 

Of the thirty-one British overseas dependencies in 1750, 
twenty-one enjoyed some form of representative institution 
all the thirteen colonies named, and eight islands in the Carib- 
bean. The divisions among the three groups of the mainland 
colonies were genuine, the product of differences in origin, in 
geographical setting, in economic activity and social structure. 
Difficulties of inter-colonial communication were accentuated 
by the deeply seamed coastline, and local attachments were 
naturally far stronger than the notion of the Empire as a whole, 
to say nothing of America as opposed to Britain. The limitations 
which mountain and forest, as well as the French and their 
Indian allies, had placed upon a rapid movement into the 
interior had stimulated an intensive exploitation of the resources 
to hand, relatively close settlement, and a consequently rapid 
development of indigenous social and institutional forms. 

By the middle of the eighteenth century the colonies had 
already experienced the common fate of colonies of settlement. 
They depended upon the export of staple products to a metro- 
politan area which was the principal source of credit, and this 
situation tended to create a standing lack of ready money for 
commercial purposes or for the meeting of fiscal obligations. 
Internally there were clashes of interest between older and 
newer sections, between creditor and debtor, between planter, 
farmer and trader, and in the south between master and slave. 
These struggles had tended to seek for expression within insti- 
tutions brought from the old world or refashioned to meet the 
new environment. Despite pockets of foreign-language settlers, 
the dominant element in the American inheritance was still 
clearly English, as much in religion and culture, as in law, 
administration and politics. 

The imperial policy of the home government had to take 
account of these facts as well as of certain principles of action 
which related to the Empire as a whole. It was held that the 



160 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

economic activities of the colonists should be such as to benefit 
at least some sections of the metropolitan population, and to 
compete with as few as possible of them, though it had been 
accepted that tobacco culture was a colonial affair and that this 
crop should not be developed in England. It was even more 
important that the colonies should be a source of strength and 
not of weakness in the conflicts between Britain and other 
Powers; naval stores must be provided. At the beginning, the 
idea of the colonies as a home for surplus population had been 
important ; but after the middle of the seventeenth century it was 
accepted that under-population not over-population was 
England's national problem, and only the offscourings of 
society were encouraged or compelled to go overseas. Such 
policies did not seem tyrannical nor even unduly detrimental to 
the interests of the colonists. Looked at from London it seemed 
quite natural that the commerce of the colonies in most 
important products should be directed towards London for 
the benefit of its merchants and of its mercantile marine, 
the essential standby in time of war. The desire of the New 
Englanders to trade directly with foreign countries, as their 
own shipping became more important, or with foreign colonies 
in the Caribbean seemed selfishly to overlook the interests 
of the whole for the sake of the part. But a fairly lax adminis- 
tration of some of the relevant regulations helped to prevent 
the differences coming to a head. 

In the same way, the political relationship that hammered 

itself ^out between the Glorious Revolution and the Seven 

Years* War was completely in accordance with the accepted 

British ideas on government. The raising of revenue for 

the defraying of local administrative charges was a matter 

for the colonists acting through representative institutions 

institutions by no means without their element of oligarchy, 

but as suitable to the existing state of affairs in the colonies as 

those at Westminster were appropriate to England. The 

executive government was the Crown's affair and it was 

natural that posts in the colonies should, like posts in England, 

be filled by the operation of influence and patronage, rather 

than on any sterner basis. If fighting had to be done against the 

French and their allies, it was obvious that the regular officers 



MARITIME POWERS 161 

of His Majesty's Forces should take precedence over the local 
leaders of raw colonial levies. If the European tactics of such 
officers proved unsuitable to the American forest, and led to 
disasters such as that which befell General Braddock in 1755, 
this was no good reason for challenging the established order 
of things. If the imperial government took the view that a 
hard currency should be maintained and opposed the demands 
of frontier inflationists, if it supported the claims of the holders 
of royal land-grants, colonial proprietors such as the Penn 
family, against those who took the New World view that the 
land belonged to those who could settle and work it, it was the 
result of adherence to principles which had proved sound 
enough in the home environment by men who had little or no 
experience of any other. The British North Americans of 1750 
were not oppressed, and had no need to look with envy on the 
far more closely circumscribed subjects of the rival empires in 
the New World. 

There was no inherent reason why the situation that 
existed in the middle of the eighteenth century should not 
have perpetuated itself. In some ways indeed the centrifugal 
tendencies within the system were becoming weaker. As trade 
and communication across the Atlantic increased, so did the 
stake of Britain and America and of individual British and 
American men of business in each other's welfare. Study by 
young Americans in Britain, the reading of English books, the 
adopting of English tastes and fashions as life for the wealthier 
became easier and more varied all these tended to knit the 
ruling classes of the two countries into a single whole. The 
amount of American business coming before the privy council, 
the board of trade, the office of the secretary of state, the 
treasury, and other departments, as well as before Parliament 
itself led to the colonies retaining regular agents to speak for 
them in London. For the normal routine of affairs the existing 
machinery seemed adequate enough. It was war and victory 
that tilted the balance war whose origins itself became a 
source of dispute, since Englishmen maintained that it had 
been fought to protect the Empire, while Americans held 
that they had been dragged into a purely European squabble. 

Wars have to be paid for, and it seemed obvious enough 



162 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

that the colonists should pay their share, though their unfavour- 
able balance of payments made it difficult. Furthermore, 
taxation for general purposes, as apart from duties designed to 
regulate the movement of commodities, had not previously been 
attempted by Parliament, and to attempt it was to raise awkward 
questions. The reaction of the colonists showed that they had 
not appreciated how fast England had moved towards sub- 
stituting Parliamentary for monarchical rule. The colonists did 
not dispute their allegiance to the Crown until they were 
forced to do so by the realization that Crown and Parliament 
were inseparable. They showed from the beginning of the dis- 
pute, both by their actions and by their arguments, that they 
had been working on the implicit theory that their own 
assemblies were almost co-equal with Parliament, that they 
could not be taxed nor legislated for by a Parliament in which 
they were unrepresented. The colonists would have denied the 
familiar gibe that the British constitution does not exist: they 
were sure it existed and they were sure they knew what it was. 
An attempt was made to reach a compromise by drawing an 
awkward distinction between direct taxation and internal 
law-making on the one hand, and matters of imperial interest 
on the other, and by consenting that Parliament should con- 
tinue to deal with the matter. If tempers had been better kept, 
and all Englishmen had been as far-sighted as the wisest of 
them, this might have served for a time; but it was inherently 
unworkable as a permanent solution. Once the colonists had 
developed a local leadership with sufficient skill to frame the 
issue and their apprenticeship in the colonial and local 
governments had powerfully contributed to its development 
only four possibilities were open. The fundamental position of 
the colonists could be accepted, and they could be given 
complete self-government as members of a free association of 
communities under a single Crown the modern Common- 
wealth idea. But this demanded a stage of development in the 
colonies, and a maturity of political understanding on both 
sides which had not been reached. Alternatively some form of 
federal solution was called for. This in fact, meant, to begin 
with, representation of the colonies at Westminster, a thing 
hardly practicable in the age of sail. If these were ruled out, then 



MARITIME POWERS 163 

either Parliament must make good its claim to sovereignty 
throughout the Crown's dominions, and treat all colonial 
institutions as enjoying merely delegated powers, however 
extensive these might be, or else, the colonists must claim total 
independence, and make good this claim in theory, and by the 
sword. 

If the issues involved had been restricted to taxation and 
trade, the struggle might not have come so soon. But the 
results of the war of 1763 were not confined to an attempt to 
keep the land-tax in England down by securing revenue in the 
colonies. The conquest of Canada and Florida meant that 
British imperialism had passed from a mercantile to a territorial 
phase. Much has been made of the fact that by removing the 
fear of French aggression, the British victory freed the colonists 
from their previous need for protection, and so made them 
readier to question the necessity of an imperial tie that now 
seemed productive of burdens rather than of benefits. It is 
equally important that the conquest of Canada and Florida was 
itself unwelcome to them. The increase in the area of the 
Empire would, it was held, depreciate the value of the original 
colonies, and their products, and would disperse their popula- 
tion. Used to despotic rule, these colonies would be the mere 
tools of the home government, and could be used to coerce the 
true Americans we might think of Canada as England's 
Bohemia. Protestant bigotry deplored the toleration that 
Britain showed to her new subjects. Above all, the proclamation 
of 1763 holding up trans-Appalachian settlement while a new 
Indian policy was worked out, was directly opposed to powerful 
American interests involved in land-settlement and land- 
speculation. The Quebec Act of 1774 by extending the 
boundaries of Canada to the south suggested that the interests 
of the Canadian fur-trader were to be given preference over 
those of the American settler. The Indians were to be protected, 
and the farmers abandoned to their brutal assaults. The clash 
of policies appeared from London to be one of enlightened 
imperialism against a series of unrelated local greeds and 
pretensions. From the American side it increasingly took 
on the appearance of a national movement provoked into 
resistance by wanton tyranny. The latter view has tended 



164 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

to dominate our histories. Both, however, contain elements 
of distortion. 

The imperial view was never universally held in Britain 
and the American cause never lacked supporters particularly 
from among those opposed on other grounds to the King and 
ministry. On the American side unanimity was even further 
off. The internal divisions within the colonies were too profound 
for any cause to unite all sections; many preferred the rule of 
Parliament to that of the locally dominant group. In the 
propertied classes, men like the wealthy merchants of 
Philadelphia and the larger landowners in the Middle Colonies 
certainly wished to maintain the British connexion, as did the 
Anglican clergymen, and indeed Anglicans generally. The 
radical elements in the New England towns and among the 
fanners were too weak to dominate the scene when the struggle 
began over the Sugar Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765. 
The theme of the next decade is essentially that of their acquisi- 
tion of new leaders, largely from among the plantation-owners 
of Virginia. To what extent the increasing economic difficulties 
which this class faced as a result partly of soil-exhaustion, and 
in particular their increasing indebtedness, led to their being 
ready to take up the role of revolutionaries for which they 
seemed so unfitted, has never been satisfactorily explained but 
that these difficulties were important there can be no doubt. 
By 1775 such men had much to gain and little to lose; and they 
made a successful revolution possible. Every revolution has its 
intellectuals and these were provided by the New England and 
Philadelphian lawyers, and by men who though not primarly 
lawyers were nevertheless trained in law, like Thomas Jefferson. 
But what distinguished the American Revolution was that its 
leadership was so largely in the hands of practical men of affairs: 
no one could be less like the conventional picture of the dis- 
affected intellectual than George Washington. And it is for 
this reason perhaps that unlike most other revolutions, this one 
stopped more or less where its original leaders wished it to. 

It is a common error to confuse the American Revolution 
with the American War of Independence. The American 
Revolution on its political side was achieved when the Conti- 
nental Congress dominated by the temporary alliance of Virginia 



MARITIME POWERS 165 

and Massachusetts decided to raise an army, and to put its 
dispute with the imperial government to the arbitrament of 
force. It meant that die party which believed in resistance was 
strong enough to feel able to coerce its opponents at home, and 
act as though it represented a nation a nation hitherto 
unknown to the world. It continued as a movement inside the 
former colonies (now States) whose object was to remodel their 
institutions in accordance with their new status, and in a 
generally democratic direction. Whether the War of Indepen- 
dence was to succeed or not was on the other hand, a diplomatic 
and military question and was settled on the international plane. 
One cannot, of course, altogether separate the two things. 
The Declaration of Independence came as early in the struggle 
as it did, largely because foreign recognition and foreign 
aid seemed to depend on the Americans' breaking down all 
the bridges that might lead back to a reconciliation. But 
for the European rulers the war was merely a renewal of the 
old struggle against the overweening power of Britain. France 
gave vital assistance to the rebels, first surreptitiously and then 
as an open ally: Spain lured by the vain hope of winning back 
Gibraltar, did so with greater reluctance, rightly fearing the 
effect of a successful revolution in one part of the western 
hemisphere upon the temper of the other. Holland deeply 
divided internally, was dragged in by the anti-British feelings 
of the Republican opponents of the Orangists, and by the 
refusal of the Amsterdam merchants to abandon the profitable 
trade with the French. Although the Dutch colonies lost to 
Britain were restored in the general peace-making, the war 
marked the real ruin of the Republic which now depended on 
others for the defence of its colonial trade. The challenge to 
British sea power and to its right to interfere with neutral 
shipping went outside the circle of the active belligerents. In 
1780, Catherine of Russia signed the declaration which 
established the terms of the League of Armed Neutrality, a 
group of powers pledged to insist on a narrow interpretation of 
contraband, and on the maximum freedom for neutral traffic. 
Sweden and Denmark as well as Russia armed their ships in 
order to enforce conformity with their demands: Prussia, 
Austria, Naples, and even Portugal, acceded to the declaration 



166 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

later. The Armed Neutrality was more effective indeed on 
paper than in practice: but the diplomatic isolation of England 
was complete. 

The calculations of self-interest which governed foreign 
intervention in the war were equally to the fore in the negotia- 
tions which culminated in the Peace of Paris of 1783. Canada 
was unconquered, and with the British Caribbean islands, and 
the fruits of a new surge of mercantile expansion in the Indian 
Ocean and the Pacific, remained as one of the foundation-stones 
of a second British Empire. The Americans who had been 
willing to see the French assist them to repel the English 
attempt at a reconquest did not wish to see themselves too 
closely confined in their borders by a re-established French 
empire in North America. The arrival of the Spaniards in 
Louisiana in 1763 and their return to Florida in 1783 raised the 
question of the Mississippi valley in a new form and with it the 
whole question of the future destiny of the new United States. 

Outside the North American continent the changes brought 
about by the peace were scarcely commensurate with the 
effort involved in the prosecution of the war. Florida and 
Minorca did not satisfy Spain. Louisiana and various trading 
posts in India and West Africa, even when combined with the 
blow to Britain's power and prestige involved in accepting the 
fact of American independence, were inadequate compensation 
to the French for the major blow inflicted upon their national 
solvency. The most direct connexion between the American and 
French Revolutions lay in the fact that it was French expenditure 
in the war that produced the financial impasse that led to the 
calling of the States-General in 1789. 

It would be wrong, however, to think that this was the 
only connexion. French officers who had fought in America 
came back enthusiastic for the ideals which they believed the 
Americans to have upheld: the prestige of Lafayette is eloquent 
on this point. And European enthusiasm for the Americans was 
not confined to France. In England itself, shaken as it was by 
war and defeat, radicalism made important strides until its 
progress was cut short by the national reaction against the 
excesses and aggressiveness of revolutionary France. In Holland 
the prestige of American republicanism contributed to the 



MARITIME POWERS 167 

turbulence of the political scene before the restoration of the 
Orangists by Prussian arms and under British patronage, in 
1787. Even Germany was affected. This was largely due to the 
sale to Britain by the German princelings of soldiers for the war. 
But even apart from this, the claims of the colonists seem to 
have received a ready hearing especially among intellectuals. 
In Spanish America the aspirations of the Creoles received a new 
impetus: Miranda was talking revolution with North American 
leaders in 1783. It has been rightly argued that the Americans 
were in fact less interested in universal notions of rights than in 
their specific claims as inheritors of English constitutional 
privileges, that their field of vision was limited to their own 
affairs, that the Declaration of Independence itself is a limited 
document relying on specific grievances to justify its radical 
conclusions. If this were the whole truth, the international 
repercussions of the Americans' success would be difficult to 
understand. At a time when many rulers were exercising com- 
pulsion against sections of their subjects, why should the wrongs 
of the American colonists excite so much interest, particularly 
since no great questions of religion or nationality were seemingly 
involved but rather a series of material disputes over taxes, land- 
claims and tariff restrictions? The provisional answer to such 
questions must be sought in two directions, in the development 
of a political philosophy and of a social myth. 

The colonists had indeed begun by an appeal to British 
constitutional practice and to their rights as Englishmen. 
But as it became apparent that even sympathizers with their 
grievances, such as Chatham, would make no concessions on 
the point of Parliament's ultimate sovereignty, they shifted 
their ground to the more universal one of natural rights. 
In England, natural rights as they appeared in the individualist 
philosophy of John Locke were now regarded generally as being 
adequately guaranteed by the enforced dependence of the 
executive on Parliament: for the Americans they implied the 
right to reject the authority of a Parliament in which they 
were unrepresented. The sophistries of "virtual representation" 
(urged against English reformers as well) went for nothing: 
the King had tried to set up an absolute tyranny: Parliament 
had endeavoured to "extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction". 



168 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

The just powers of governments, in the language of the 
Declaration of Independence, derived "from the consent of 
the governed", and no prescriptive rights or duties could stand 
in the way of "the right of the people to alter or abolish" one 
form of government and to set up a new one "laying its founda- 
tion on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, 
as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and 
happiness". Therefore King and Parliament must be thrust 
aside, and replaced by something new. 

The idea of natural rights was no novelty in western 
political thinking: it had been argued before that a ruler who 
ignored them had in some sense broken the contract upon 
which the allegiance of his subjects was based. What was 
new was the idea that natural rights might be thought of as 
a perpetual yardstick for the judgement of governments, that 
the people, tie community at large, could simply decide that a 
particular form of government was not meeting this test, and 
throw it over with as little compunction as a man might sell a 
horse that no longer served his purposes. Natural rights in this 
context meant a perpetual right of revolution, it meant denying 
the divinity that had hitherto hedged not only kings but all 
constituted authorities. This was heady wine and not only 
Americans would get drunk upon it. 

It is significant that this point was not overlooked by 
contemporaries .of these events themselves. "The Americans," 
wrote Josiah Tucker "are now Mr. Locke's disciples: who has 
laid down such maxims in his Treatise on Government, that 
if they were to be executed according to the letter and in the 
manner the Americans pretend to understand them, they would 
necessarily unhinge and destroy every Government upon earth". 
With equal vehemence Tom Paine proclaimed the universality 
of the new American ideals: "O ye that love mankind: Ye that 
dare oppose, not only the tyranny stand forth: every spot of the 
old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been 
hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa, have long expelled her 
Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given 
her warning to depart O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in 
time an asylum for mankind". 

This asylum was to be more than political. The political 



MARITIME POWERS 169 

appeal of the new country was less potent than the social one. 
It was not simply that people were asked to regard the United 
States as having a political system in which the people truly 
ruled themselves, it was not just that the political inheritance of 
the past had been seemingly obliterated, what really counted 
was that social inequality existed no longer. In this new world 
no-one was concerned to assert that he was better than his 
fellow: no-one bowed the knee to birth or wealth or learning: 
all were stripped naked before the majesty of a continent to 
be conquered: the conflicts of races and classes that had covered 
Europe with battlefields and Bastilles gave way to a joint enter- 
prise, the subduing of physical nature. The vogue of Benjamin 
Franklin in the salons of pre-revolutionary Paris was not 
an accident: his homespun clothes and manners, his provincial 
shrewdness and above all his patriarchal simplicity fitted 
precisely into the picture which the intellectuals had drawn of 
the natural man, free of the vices of sophisticated society. 
The idea of the "noble savage" had done good work in social 
criticism, but, close up, the real savage was rather a disappoint- 
ment: the American pioneer would serve much better. Euro- 
peans could read Cr&vecceur on "what is then the American? 
the American is a new man, who acts upon new principles: 
he must therefore entertain new ideas and form new opinions. 
From involuntary idleness, servile dependence, penury, and 
useless labour, he has passed to toils of a different nature, 
rewarded by ample subsistence. This is an American". They 
might or might not want to go to America; if they could 
read, the odds were that they would not go. What they did want, 
was to see these American phenomena reproduced at home. 
The European wanted his America, his free, egalitarian society 
in Europe; the American social myth had thus added a new and 
powerful ingredient to the revolutionary cauldron* 



CHAPTER VIII 

ABSOLUTISM IN TRANSFORMATION: 
1789-1815 

THE history of ideas is not identical with the history of 
institutions. Even the political doctrines of the revolutionary 
Americans were reconciled with the establishment of what 
proved a permanent and stable system of government; and 
profound changes in the geographical and social outlook were 
necessary before the subsequent swing towards the more 
radical Jacksonian democracy became possible. Nor were the 
ideas of the Jacksonians, to say nothing of those of Jefferson 
or Paine, themselves radical, by comparison for instance with 
those ventilated in England at the crisis of the seventeenth- 
century revolution. For a parallel to this earlier ferment of ideas 
about the recasting of human society we must turn to France, 
though there these ideas were advanced on secular rather than 
on religious grounds. One could go further, and say that if one 
takes continental Europe as a whole, and can set off German 
romanticism and nationalism against the universalist ideologies 
of France, almost every social and political idea with which the 
twentieth century has been confronted can claim legitimate 
or illegitimate ancestry within the crowded quarter of a century 
after 1789. What is surprising is that so much in Europe's 
institutional equipment managed to survive and be passed on 
into the next period of its history. 

The essential continuity of the history of the continental 
countries was broken neither by the irruption of new ideas, nor 
by the recasting of the map of Europe through war, on a scale 
altogether incommensurate with the changes which have been 
chronicled for the preceding century. Similarly the very different 
institutions through which eighteenth-century England had 
carried on its affairs survived the violent economic upheaval of 
the industrial revolution almost intact, and were only gradually 

170 



ABSOLUTISM IN TRANSFORMATION 171 

reformed to suit its purposes in the course of the fifty years after 
1830. 

At first sight the contrast between maritime and continental 
powers, and on the Continent, between West and East, was no 
less marked after the revolutionary wave had passed and sub- 
sided than it had been before it. Indeed after 1830, the diplo- 
matic constellation itself seemed to reflect the antagonisms 
between constitutional and absolutist governments. But, as has 
earlier been suggested, this is partly an illusion. For a relatively 
short period of time the demands of the State in the West were 
curtailed by the economic theory of laissez-faire which was 
found congenial by the entrepreneurial classes at a particular 
juncture in the history of capitalism. But this did not mean that 
the State was weaker than it had been in the age of mercantilist 
absolutism. In the skill and devotion of its administrators, 
in its ability to command obedience and to tap national resources 
for public ends, the nineteenth-century state was almost 
everywhere stronger than its eighteenth-century predecessor; 
the very inventions that helped produce the new capitalist wealth 
the railway, the telegraph, the power-driven printing press 
were all conducive to the affirmation of central authority; for 
one thing, administrators could now acquire accurate informa- 
tion to an extent hitherto inconceivable. Furthermore, the spread 
of education, everywhere an inseparable accompaniment of 
technical and economic progress, gave greater opportunities for 
new political creeds to arise, and to fill the emotional void 
seemingly created by the decline of religious certainties and the 
greater social instability. Such secular ideologies might take a 
democratic form and appear as a continuation of the eighteenth- 
century protest against all forms of privilege, though it took 
the genius of Tocqueville to perceive as early as the 1830s 
the fiill lineaments of the levelling democracy of the future. 
Or they might take the form of a national or even a racial 
justification of the State's purposes, and invest acceptance of 
its demands with the traditional veneration accorded to 
patriotism. A State which could claim neither democratic nor 
national justification like Austria, would inevitably continue to 
lead a precarious life. Nevertheless, it took the cataclysm of the 
First World War to write finis to the Habsburg Empire. Even 



172 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

Czarist Russia where the Government disdained all ideological 
support, where the gap between the Government and the masses 
remained almost unbridged, survived until finally crushed by 
military defeat and the ensuing economic dislocation. The 
powerfiil edifice of the French monarchy that Louis XVI 
inherited from his predecessors apparently crumbled to pieces 
as the result of a train of events set in motion by the unsolved 
fiscal problems arising from the American wars; the Romanov 
Empire fell only when millions of lives had been sacrificed; and 
when it did so, it brought down its two rivals to destruction 
with it. Upon the ruins of these three Empires there arose in 
our own day states making still greater demands upon their 
citizens, and exercising absolutisms more all-embracing than 
any hitherto known. 

It is perhaps worth calling attention once more to the 
geographical contrasts which underlie so much of European 
history; for the modern conflict of ideologies between western 
Liberalism and Socialist Absolutism, whether in its Nazi or 
Communist form, can only properly be understood if these are 
kept in mind. It is in western Europe with its various and 
many-sided social life that the ravages of political totalitarianism 
have been most firmly resisted; it is only where society itself has 
produced new institutions, or where older ones successfully 
resisted the absolutist monarchs of the eighteenth century and 
their revolutionary successors that one can still perceive that 
tension between the State and society which is the condition of 
a healthy political life. 

If the State is not omnipotent and omnicompetent in the 
North Atlantic democracies as it is, for instance, in Soviet 
Russia, this cannot be ascribed solely to constitutional guaran- 
tees, whether of the American written variety, or enshrined in 
accepted constitutional practice as in Britain. It is much more 
important that in these countries new independent agglomera- 
tions of power have replaced the privileged groups of the 
eighteenth century. Whether it be a business corporation, a 
trade union, the regional or national cohesiveness of some 
minority group, a church, a professional organization, or a 
university, the existence of such an independent focus of 
authority and loyalty involves a limitation upon the absolutism 



ABSOLUTISM IN TRANSFORMATION 173 

of the State. Indeed, there is no method of establishing limits 
upon power other than the setting up of power to rival it. Except 
in the smallest of possible political communities the original 
Swiss forest cantons, for instance the individual cannot 
possibly count for anything in political society. He can only 
exert influence through his membership of a group ; the descent 
from feudalism through Whiggism to Liberalism is a much 
more honourable one than is often admitted. 

It is not true, of course, that this tension between the 
State and society should normally show itself in open conflict. 
For it would be intolerable if political life were the scene of 
constant struggles between the central power and important 
social groups. British society would long ago have foundered if 
every generation had needed a Simon de Montfort or a John 
Hampden. In a healthy political order, every group that has 
something to contribute to society will be in a position to do so. 
Its separate identity and capacity for resistance will be held in 
reserve. It is only when important sections of the population feel 
that they are being frustrated by an existing order which the 
relevant political authority is unable or unwilling to see altered, 
that a revolutionary crisis develops. It is the alienation of 
vital elements that is fatal. This does not need a thorough- 
going absolutism for it to happen; we have noted a crisis of 
this kind in colonial America. But an absolutism makes it more 
likely because, it will inevitably tend to adapt itself too slowly 
to a social order that can never itself remain static. 

France In the eighteenth century, provides the classic 
instance; but it would be wrong to restrict the field of our 
observations. In Prussia, for instance, there was the inevitable 
reaction after the death of Frederick II ; some of his character- 
istic administrative devices were abandoned; but these changes 
were relatively superficial. More significant was the fact that the 
ideas of the enlightenment continued to penetrate the adminis- 
tration through its recruitment from the middle-class students 
of the universities, while at the same time, the nobles remained 
supreme at Court, in the army and above all on their own 
estates. The weakness of this duality in social outlook and 
inspiration was to make itself felt when the Frederician military 
inheritance was found wanting at Jena. It continued to frustrate 



174 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

the would-be reformers of Prussia after this national humiliation, 
and was only resolved, and then in quite different circum- 
stances, after 1848. There was also another factor in the 
Prussian situation. The increase of the bourgeois element in the 
administration was not rapid enough to take up all the output 
of the universities; growing centralization, particularly at the 
expense of the cities, actually cut down the number of posts 
available. As a consequence, there grew up in late eighteenth- 
century Prussia a class of disaffected intellectuals, for whom 
the absolutist system seemed too closely bound up with the 
privileges of the nobility to be worth their allegiance. Social 
criticism here did not need the French Revolution to set it 
off; and it was from such roots as these that there were born 
visions of a wider national community in which the creative 
urges thus frustrated could be harnessed. Hence arose German 
romanticism with its highly charged national colouring. But 
although German nationalism was the product in part of 
individual discontents, it took on an essentially collective form. 
What these people wanted was not to do away with the State, but 
to enlarge it. In as far as men like Fichte proclaimed the desir- 
ability of a self-sufficient and integrated national community, 
they were, in a sense, translating into nineteenth-century terms 
some of the objectives of the enlightened despots. The State 
would now embody the national will. It was, rather belatedly, 
the depersonalization of the enlightened despot, and this 
tendency had already been manifest before the Revolution in 
a more advanced country like France. 

The French scene in the pre-Revolutionary period was 
a more complicated one. The pressures upon the State were 
more various, the number of the alienated more considerable. 
There was a growing movement towards economic individual- 
ism, both in commerce and on the land struggling in the 
former case against relics of State control and State-supported 
monopoly, and in the latter against the surviving customary 
restrictions on the utilization of the soil. Free trade was the 
slogan of one movement; enclosure of the other. 

A programme along these lines was theoretically within the 
scope of the existing political authorities; the royal power 
could have been thrown, as the physiocrats wished it to be, on 



ABSOLUTISM IN TRANSFORMATION 175 

the side of freedom in economic life. Under men who were, 
like Turgot open to the ideas of the enlightenment, attempts 
were indeed made along these lines; but the vested interests 
opposed to change were on the whole too strong for them; and 
an alliance between the French Crown and the commercial 
middle classes was never consolidated. Indeed there was, 
towards the end, something of an aristocratic reaction. The 
attack on privilege by men of property which was the 
essence of the first stage in the French Revolution was 
thus understandable; the desired revision of the laws 
could only be attained by the employment of new political 
means. 

But the idea of sweeping political and social changes had 
to be conceived and diffused before power could be grasped 
and used in this way. From this point of view, it is the attack 
on the intellectual defences of absolutism that is the most 
important part of the Revolution's prehistory. In the first half 
of the eighteenth century, this attack was largely directed 
against the regime's clerical support, and against the whole 
edifice of religious orthodoxy. A monarchy by divine right was 
an anachronism in a world rapidly absorbing and crudely 
interpreting, the amazing advances of the natural sciences, and 
after about 1750, this original battle was won. Having won it, 
many reformers still placed their hopes on the Crown, still felt 
that the philosophes could replace the expelled Jesuits as 
keepers of the royal conscience. But discussion and speculation 
had created a public for discussion and speculation; the French 
ruling classes who had been taught to be sceptical about God 
were not prepared to dogmatize about anything else, and the 
spirit of inquiry pursued mundane paths which soon left no 
temporal institution uncriticized. 

This outburst of abstract theorizing forms so startling a 
contrast with the quiescence of preceding ages, that some have 
been content to regard the French Revolution as a simple plot 
through which men, possessed of a series of general ideas about 
politics, seized the State, and proceeded to put their ideas into 
effect. The truth is more subtle than that; but the course which 
the Revolution took would hardly have been possible if the new 
ideology, and the new political language in which it was cast, had 



176 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

not provided an intelligible framework for the conflicts which 
it engendered. 

In some respects it was more important that men should 
talk and write with this new freedom, than they should express 
particular ideas. Their ideas were indeed diverse and of unequal 
importance and relevance. But from the point of view of the 
future they had one great common denominator; they amounted 
to a virtual denial not so much of the existing political order, 
as of its human and social presuppositions. Instead of a God- 
ordained society they spoke of reason; instead of regarding sin 
as inherent in man, they pinned their faith to human perfecti- 
bility and believed that education could remould the human 
personality; instead of the privileges of the different orders, they 
insisted upon egalitarianism; in a society deeply infused with 
militarism, they despised the martial qualities, in an age of 
dynastic aggrandizement they extolled fraternity among the 
peoples. 

Of all these the most far-reaching in its implications was 
the belief in human goodness. For when men brought up on 
such ideas had seen so much of this original programme 
achieved with scarcely any genuine resistance from the pillars 
of the old order, they came to believe that they possessed the 
secret of human happiness and could legislate for it. Those who 
opposed them could only be doing so because they were 
irredeemably corrupt, and therefore they should be swept 
away. Virtue and corruption might be envisaged differently by 
Robespierre on the one hand, and Babeuf on the other; but what 
they had in common was a belief in the objective existence of 
such categories among men. 

The State which the early achievements of the Revolution 
seemed for a time to be weakening, now emerged as the instru- 
ment of the new social engineering. Indeed it was stronger than 
it had ever been. The old confused mass of overlapping adminis- 
trative units and jurisdictions went the way of other reminders 
of a provincial and feudal past. It was succeeded by the new 
uniformity of the "departments** into which France was now 
divided. But it was not simply that administration was tightened 
up; the organization of the virtuous in local political clubs gave 
added strength to the emissaries of the Republican Government. 



ABSOLUTISM IN TRANSFORMATION 177 

In these can be seen the embryo of the modern totalitarian one- 
party State. The Jacobin absolutism claimed more, and took 
more, than the royal absolutism that had been swept away. Not 
only internal enemies but external opponents of the new ideas 
were guilty of treason; for revolutionary France claimed a new 
sense of national community, and better right to "natural 
frontiers". Wars fought to aggrandize revolutionary France 
were not open to the charge of militarism, since they were 
ostensibly fought to liberate. 

The conquest of power by a new clan or group which is the 
essence of all Revolutions, alters the outlook of its conquerors, 
and tends to make them fall back in some respects upon the 
tried institutions of the past. For Robespierre and his associates 
the opportunity for consolidation did not arrive; too many 
interests had been alienated, the foundations of their power were 
altogether too narrow, for their rule to last. The further 
development of the essential theoretical basis of democratic 
absolutism went on in an underworld removed from the real 
hope of power. In the Communist notions of Babeuf, and above 
all in his belief that professional government is unnecessary, 
that any citizen can perform the simple tasks involved in 
running the community's affairs, that dictatorship is only 
transitional and must move towards a society which an identity 
of interests and sentiments will suffice to preserve, the modern 
totalitarian utopianism of a Lenin is substantially prefigured. 
But for the time being, power in France passed into other hands 
and eventually, and perhaps inevitably into those of a soldier- 
ruler. 

The r61e of Napoleon was an essential one in the trans- 
formation of absolutism. For he showed both what could, and 
what could not, be carried on from the previous age. His ideas 
on domestic policy were not substantially different from those 
of the enlightened despots; if one were to call him the French 
Frederick the Great one would not be doing him a substantial 
injustice. His object, like Frederick's, was a country whose 
resources were in their entirety available to its ruler. But 
the new absolutism should succeed where the French monarchy 
had failed. The Revolution had completed the downfall of that 
traditional French aristocracy, which the monarchy itself had 



178 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

done its best for so long to exclude from active participation 
in political life. This verdict would not be reversed; nor 
would the other privileged classes of the older France be 
revived. The men of money, the parvenus who had come to 
the fore under the Directory and Empire, were not powerful 
enough to be feared. The administration was to be wholly 
professional, and wholly dependent upon the Government; 
national credit should at last be assured through a new Bank of 
France; above all a national system of education, the University, 
should see to it that Frenchmen were trained for their 
appropriate r61e in the new social hierarchy, and given an 
official creed as the solid foundation of their thinking. Within 
so rigid a framework, one could afford to put an end to the 
revolutionary quarrel with the Church which some had found 
so painful; tie Church, shorn of its pretensions, could become 
a bastion of the new social order. Now that feudalism was 
abolished for good, now that Frenchmen were to be equal 
before the law, and given also that State intervention in 
economic life could henceforth substantially be limited to 
regulating external commerce, revolutionary ideas on the one 
hand, and reactionary hankerings on the other, could be dis- 
regarded. They were an affair of cliques, a police rather than a 
political problem. The Napoleonic system gave every promise of 
stability. And, shorn of the Emperor, it fulfilled the promise. 
Many of the fundamental institutions of the Fourth Republic 
are still Napoleonic though once again, economic and social 
change has made them increasingly anachronistic. 

For those who had lived through the French Revolution, 
the realization that the State had increased its power, that the 
individualism of the original Declaration of Rights of 1789 was 
a passing phase was unacceptable. Most of all was this so, for 
those who had seen it as a continuation of the struggle in 
America. Napoleon was on St. Helena, and the brother of 
Louis XVI nded a France from which many ancient landmarks 
had disappeared when, on 10th December, 1817, Lafayette 
wrote to Jefferson a letter which later generations may well 
find supremely ironic: 

"Politics as you justly observe have ever been our hobby. 



ABSOLUTISM IN TRANSFORMATION 179 

Oppressed as they are in this European wrong side of the 
Atlantic, they are not so desperate as one might mourn 
them. The llth July, 1789 Declaration of Rights, which 
has been honoured with your approbation is still the creed 
of an immense majority in France and elsewhere; nor is it 
possible for any party or dynasty in this and other countries 
to hope for duration out of the circle which it has traced out. 
Napoleon, an uncommon man, found means for some years 
to escape under a revolutionary mask and a heap of laurels. 
Nobody now in France can stand it so long; no court in 
Europe could last for two generations of divine right. The 
principle of national instead of special governments is 
working under the bed of lies which the Sainte Alliance are 
holding over the European world." 

Lafayette was right in the sense that to try to restore 
the ancien regime and its theoretical sanctions was impossible. 
National governments governments putting forward a claim to 
represent the community as a whole would replace special 
governments, those of a dynasty or privileged class. But this 
would mean not less but more government. Power at the 
service of a community would be more effective and would be 
applied more ruthlessly than power at the service of an individual 
monarch. The wars of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period 
had given a foretaste of what this might mean. One can endeav- 
our to discount their novelty by references to France's age-long 
quest for suitable frontiers ; but in fact, the Napoleon's summons 
to his army to go forward and live on the accumulated 
wealth which the long peace and the piety of religious and, 
latterly, of artistic pilgrims had brought to Italy, was a naked 
appeal to the right of the stronger such as the previous age had 
on the whole tried to avoid. Here again, one must not senti- 
mentalize over the ancien rigime\ the partitions of Poland were 
no less immoral than the destruction of Venetian independence. 
But it is true that nationalism proved as inimical as religion to 
any notion of humanizing war. The Peninsular War as seen by 
Goya was as horrible as the Thirty Years' War as seen by Callot. 
And war, and preparations for war, were to be as central to the 
new absolutisms as to the old. 



, ---' ":"-- -v- . * f * ----" 

r-*- , : %. i* r: " - .- , - - -. s 

. *i ts ---^^^ "- -'* ' .- 

"= "- '=:.;- i v -"^-\.^ k ' , < / .- , 

.*.--'-* -i;;^ : *- ,;^> ^-- '-. 

.^ "A "*-.** >'*'*j'i\'+ < i -"'^ :*- ^'**> J-j 

:-* -'?,,: - s? >/ V"*, ' ^ " - 'i* r " > -" ; *: "" V"ir 



^;,v/-'^H:i\ --'i ; !^ 




THE GREAT POWERS 
OF EUROPE : 1789 

Prussia WMh Sardinia ^^ 
Venice fc'tefl 

200 400 MILES 




182 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

Lafayette was still thinking of the Revolution as a blow 
against absolutism; we are more likely to think of the impedi- 
ments to absolutism which it helped to remove. These impedi- 
ments were to a great extent institutional; but they were also 
ideal. To understand what went wrong, one has to re-examine 
the claims of thiephibsophes and the programme of the enlighten- 
ment. The human evils which they rebelled against were 
genuine evils; serfdom in one form or another, the denial of 
human dignity, an ostentation of luxury at odds with an 
economic order which left so many so needy all these were 
part and parcel of the society which eighteenth-century 
absolutism upheld. But the notion that State action could 
sweep these evils away, that Power would be used for beneficent 
purposes as easily as it had hitherto been perverted for selfish 
ones was proved to be based on a misunderstanding either of 
human beings or of the nature of social cohesion, or of both. 
Neither the heirs of the enlightenment nor the reactionaries 
against it have yet explained precisely what went wrong. The 
history of absolutism is only just beginning to be written. 



A NOTE ON BOOKS 

The period we have been dealing with has been endlessly 
studied, but many of the books on it are not primarily con- 
cerned with the particular aspects that we have chosen to 
emphasize, and access to those that are is limited by language 
barriers. A good guide to the whole period and to the literature 
about it will be found in the relevant volumes of the American 
historical series, "The Rise of Modern Europe" edited by 
W. L. Langer. These are: F. L. Nussbaum, The Triumph of 
Science and Reason, 1660-85 (1953); J. B. Wolf, The Emergence 
of the Great Powers, 1685-1715 (1951); P. Roberts, The Quest 
for Security, 1715-40 (1947); W. L. Dorn, Competition for 
Empire, 1740-63 (1940); L. Gershoy, From Despotism to 
Revolution, 1763-89 (1944); Crane Brinton, A Decade of 
Revolution, 1789-99 (1934); G. Bruun, Europe and the French 
Imperium (1938). The volumes by Dorn and Gershoy are 
particularly valuable from the point of view of this book. The 
period is also covered in volumes X to XIV of the French 
series, "Peuples et Civilizations" edited by L. Halphen and 
Ph. Sagnac, now being reissued in a second edition. The 
underlying economic philosophy and practice of the period 
received its classic treatment in Eli Heckscher, Mercantilism 
(London, 1935). An unusual attempt at a comparative study is 
provided in the symposium, The European Nobility in the 
Eighteenth Century, edited by A. Goodwin (1953). For the rest 
it is necessary to have recourse to works on particular countries. 
On French institutions, Ph. Sagnac, La Formation de la Soci&ti 
Franfaise Moderne (Vol. 1, 1945, Vol. 2, 1947) and F. Olivier- 
Martin, Histoire du Droit Franfais (1948), have been valuable. 
On Belgium, too neglected in the text, there is H. Pirenne, 
Histoire de Belgique, Vols. V, VI (1921-6); on Germany see 
W. H. Bruford, Germany in the Eighteenth Century (1952). 
On Spain there is for those who do not read Spanish, the great 
work of G. Desdevises du Dezert, "L'Espagne de 1'Ancien 
Regime", in Revue Hispanique, Vols. LXIV, LXX, LXXIII. 

1S3 



184 THE AGE OF ABSOLUTISM 

B. H. Sumner, Survey of Russian History (1944) and J. Rut- 
kowski, Histoire Economique de la Pologne avant les Partages 
(1927) are of immense value for eastern Europe. So, too, is 
H. Marczali, Hungary in the Eighteenth Century (1910); 
R. J. Kerner, Bohemia in the Eighteenth Century (Berkeley, 
California, 1932), while full of information is poorly arranged. 
S. K. Padover, The Revolutionary Emperor: Joseph II (1934), 
is very helpful. Interesting as an example of new trends in the 
study of the period is H. Brunschwig, La Crise de VEtat 
Prussien blafindu XVIII si&cle (1947). For the British back- 
ground to the American Revolution see C. M. Andrews, The 
Colonial Period of American History, Vol. IV (Yale 1938) and 
V. T. Harlow, The Founding of the Second British Empire, 
Vol. I (1952). The sources for the interpretation I have given 
to it here are indicated in my book Thomas Jefferson and American 
Democracy (1948) and in my collection of documents The 
Debate on the American Revolution (1950). 

The period from 1789 to 1815 belongs more properly to 
other volumes in this series; but I must acknowledge my 
debt to the writings on it of J. M. Thompson and in particular 
to his The French Revolution (1943) and Napoleon Bonaparte, 
his Rise and Fall (1952). Prof. A. Goodwin's The French 
Revolution (1953) in the present series appeared too late for use. 

Serious thinking on the general issues raised by the study 
of the period must begin with Alexis de Tocqueville's JJAnden 
Regime et la Revolution published originally in 1856, of which 
a new edition appeared in 1952, in the complete Tocqueville now 
being edited by J. P. Mayer; Vol. I of A. Sorel, U Europe et la 
Revolution Franfaise (1885) remains the classic treatment 
of the international theme. Two recent books are fundamental: 
Du Pouvoir by Bertrand de Jouvenel (1945), published in an 
English translation as Power (1947), and J. L. Talmon, The 
Origins of Totalitarian Democracy (1952). 



INDEX 



aides. 75 

Aiguillon, Armand Due d', 70 

Aix-la-Chapelle, treaty of (1668), 32 

Aix-la-Chapelle, treaty of (1748), 96 

Alberoni, Cardinal Guilio, 78, 90, 93 

alcabala, 93, 94 

Alexander I (Russia), 142 

Alexis, Czar, 140 

Alexis, Czarevitch, 141 

Amelot de Chaillou, 68 

Amelot, M-J., Marquis de Gournay, 

95 
American Independence, War of, 

24,40,90,97, 116, 164 ff. 
Andrusovo, truce of, 37 
Anglo-Dutch war (fourth), 154 
Anglo-Portuguese treaty (1654), 99 
Anna, Czarina, 142, 145, 146 
Ansbach-Baireuth, Christian 

Frederick, 9th Margrave of, 116 
Aranda, Pedro P. A. de Bolea, Count 

of, 78 
Argenson, Rene" Louis, Marquis d*, 

23, 70 
Argenson, Marc Pierre, Comte d', 

68 
Armed Neutrality, The League of, 

165, 166 
audiences, 86 
Augustus II (Poland), 20, 35, 149, 

150 

Augustus III (Poland), 150 
Austrian Succession, War of, 40, 88, 

90 



B 



Babeuf, Fran$ois Noel (Gracchus), 

176, 177 

Bank of Amsterdam, 98 
Bank of England, 98, 155 
Bank of St. Charles, 98 
"Barrier fortresses", 33, 38 
Belgrade, Peace of, 42 
Benedict XIV, 92 



Bertin, H. L., 69 
Bodin, Jean, 49 

Bossuet, Jacques Bnigne, 49, 50, 51 
Bourbon, Louis-Henri, duke of, 68 
boyars, 143, 145 
Braddock, General Edward, 161 
Braganza (house of), 99 ff. 
Brienne, Lomenie de, 68, 70 
Brunswick, Charles I, duke of, 116 
Brunswick, Charles, Louis, Ferdi- 
nand, duke of, 116 
bureaucracy (Austrian), 121 
bureaucracy (Prussian), 115 
bureaucracy (Russian), 143 ff. 
Burgundy, Louis, duke of, 24 
Burke, Edmund, 157 



Cabarrus, Francois, 98 

Callot, Jacques, 179 

Cameralism, 115 

Campomanes, Pedro Rodrigues, 

Count of, 78 

Campillo, Jose del, 78, 95 
capitation, 59, 75 
Casa de contratacion, 79 
Casapia, 103 
Catherine I (Russia), 141 
Catherine II (Russia), 43, 47, 133, 

135, 140, 142, 145, 147, 151, 153, 

165 

census, 13 

Chancellor (French), 68, 69 
Charles II (England), 46 
Charles V (Emperor), 32, 77 
Charles VI (Emperor), 22, 34, 35, 40, 

44, 116-19, 112 

Charles VII (Emperor), 34, 118 
Charles II (Spain), 32, 77 
Charles II (Spain), 77 ff., 152 
Charles IV (Spain), 78, 81, 82, 96 
Charles XII (Sweden), 38, 137, 150 
Charter of the nobility (Russian), 147 
Chatham, William Pitt, 1st earl of, 

167 



185 



188 



INDEX 



Maintenon, Frangiose d'Aubign, 

Marquise de, 58 
Maria Theresa (Empress), 34, 35, 

41, 117, 118, 120-3, 126-8 
Maria I (Portugal), 102, 103 
Marlborough, John Churchill, 1st 

Duke of, 32 

Masters of Requests (French), 65 
Maupeou, R. C. A., 66 
Maurepas, J. F. Phelypeaux, Comte 

de, 68 

Moriscos, 80, 81 
Mazarin, Cardinal Jules, 46, 67 
Methuen Treaty, 99 
mtllones, 93, 94 
Miranda, Francesco, 167 
Montespan, Francoise-Athenais, 

marquise de, 66 
Montesquieu, Charles-Louis, Baron 

de la Brede et de, 23, 51, 63, 155 
Montfprt, Simon de, 173 
municipalities (Spanish), 87 



N 

Nantes (edict of), 15, 58 
Napoleon I, 22, 29, 41, 61, 90, 97, 

177-9 

Necker, Jacques, 13, 71 
Newton, Isaac, 14 
Noailles, Adrien-Maurice, due de, 66 
nobility (Polish), 148 ff. 
nobility (Russian), 145 ff. 
noblesse d*4pee, 70 
noblesse de robe, 61, 70 
North, Frederick, Lord, 154 
Nymwegen, treaty of 32 
Nystadt, treaty of, 38 



Ochakov crisis, 44 

Office forme*, 71 

Oglethorpe, General James Edward, 

156 

"Old Believers", 135 
Oliva, treaty of, 19 
Orleans, Philippe (II), duke of, 22, 

39, 62, 68 
Ony, Jean, 94, 95 
Orry, Philibert, 68 



pacta conventa, 148 
Paine, Thomas, 168, 170 
Paris, peace of (1783), 97, 166 
parlements, 51, 54, 57, 61, 67, 72, 73, 

83 

Passarowitz, treaty of, 38, 39 
Paris Duverney, 61 
Patino, Joseph, 78, 92, 94, 95 
patriarchate (Russian), 135 
Paul I (Russia), 133, 140, 142 
Paulet, Charles, 73 
patdette, 73 
pays conquis, 59 
pays d*Elections 9 56 
pays d'Etats, 56 
Pedro II (Portugal), 99, 100 
Pedro III (Portugal), 102 
Peter I (Russia), 38, 39, 40,44,133 ff. 
Peter II (Russia), 141 
Peter III (Russia), 142, 146 
Petty, Sir William, 13 
Phelypeaux (family of), 70 
Philip II (Spain), 80, 82, 85 
Philip IV (Spain), 32 
Philip V (Spain), 22, 39, 40, 54, 77 ff. 
Pius VI, 29 

Poland, partition of, 41, 42, 44, 179 
Poland, constitution of (1791), 151 
Polish Succession, War of, 40 
Poltava, battle of, 137 
Polysynodie, 62, 65 
Pombal, SebastiSo Jose de Carvalho 

e Mejlo, marquise of, 101-3 
population, 12, 31 ff. 
Poniatowski, Stanislas, see Stanislas 

Augustus 

Potocki (family of), 149 
"Pragmatic Sanction", 22, 40, 11-, 

118 

Preobrajensky Prikaz, 145 
Pugachov, Emilian, 134 
Pyrenees, peace of the, 19 



Quebec Act (1774), 163 



Rakoczi, Francis, 118 
Rastatt, treaty of, 32, 38, 47 



INDEX 



189 



rgfe, 113, 114 

rtglement, 111, 113 

Radcliffe, John, 156 

Richelieu, Cardinal Armand Jean du 

Plessis de, 46, 59, 67, 69 
Ripperda, John William, 78 
Robespierre, Maximilian, 176, 177 
Rockingham, Charles Wentworth, 

2nd marquis of, 157 
Rousseau Jean- Jacques, 18, 41, 48, 

55, 157 

Royal Society, 12 
Ryswick, treaty of, 32 



St. Maur (Benedictines of), 14 

St. Petersburg (founding of), 133, 

134 
St. Pierre, Charles Iren&j Castel, 

abbe de, 25 
Saint-Simon, Louis de Rouvroy, due 

de, 62, 83 
Salic law, 35, 82 
Scheldt question, 119 
Segur, Philippe-Henri, marquis de, 

70 

serfdom (Austrian), 122, 123, 129-31 
serfdom (Polish), 148 
serfdom (Russian), 137 ff. 
Seven years* war, 40, 125, 146, 150, 

160 

Sloane, Sir Hans, 156 
Smith, Adam, 18, 29 
Sobieski, John (King of Poland), 147 
Sophia (Regent), 141 
"Sound Dues", 37 
Stael, Madame de, 71 
Stalin, Joseph, 44 
Stamp Act, 164 
Stanislas Augustus (King of Poland), 

149-51 

States-General, 55, 73, 166 
Steuerrat, 111 
Stenka Razin, 141 
Stockholm, treaty of, 38 
Strafford, Thomas Wentworth, Earl 

of, 156 
Streltsi, 141 

Struensee, Johann Frederick, 152 
Sugar Act (1764), 164 
Swift, Jonathan, 158 
Szatmar, peace of, 118, 122 



taille, 75 

tariffs (Austrian), 119,120; (Belgian), 

Tatistchev, V. N., 139 

taxation (Austrian), 123-5, 129, 130; 

(Portuguese), 1^0; (Prussian), 113, 

114; (Russian), 138 rT., 143 ff.; 

(Spanish), 91 ff. 
tax-farmers, 75 
Tellier, Michel le, 67, 70, 72 
Theodore, Czar, 141, 146 
Thirty Years' War, 28, 88 
Tocqueville, Alexis de, 18, 171 
Toleration, Patent of (Austria), 128, 

129, 131 
Toulouse, Louis-Alexandre de 

Bourbon, Comte de, 66 
Trafalgar, battle of, 91 
Tucker, Josiah, 168 
Turgot, Anne Robert, 69, 70, 174 
Tuscany, government of, 132 

U 

Uniate church, 36 

urbarium, 123 

Utrecht, treaty of, 32, 38, 54 



Vauban, Sebastian le Prestre de, 13, 

60,68 

Vri, abbe de, 23 
Vienna, Congress of, 21 
Villars, Marshal Claude Louis 

Hector, de, 67 
Villeroi (family of), 70 
vingti&mes, 59, 75 
Voltaire, Francois-Marie Arouet, 48, 

50, 51, 157 

W 

Wallenstein, Albrecht von, 29 
Walpole, Sir Robert, 22, 41 
Washington, George, 164 
Westphalia, peace of, 15, 19, 34, 47 
White Mountain (battle of), 117 
William III (England), 14, 21, 32, 
153 



HARPER TORCHBOOKS/The Bollingen Library 



Rachel BespalofT ON THE ILIAD. Introduction by Hermann Broch TB/2oo6 
Elliott Coleman, Ed. LECTURES IN CRITICISM: By R. P. Blackmur, B. Croce, Henri Peyie, John 

Crowe Ransom, Herbert Read, and Allen Tate TB/aoos 
G. G. Jung PSYCHOLOGICAL REFLECTIONS. Edited by Jolande Jacobi TB/aooi 
C. G. Jung SYMBOLS OF TRANSFORMATION: An Analysis of the Prelude to a Case oj Schizo- 

phrenia, Illustrated. VoL I, TB/aoog; Vol. II, TB/OOIO 

Erich Neumann THE ORIGINS AND HISTORY OF CONSCIOUSNESS. VoL I, TB/aooy; Vol 11, TB/aoo8 
St.-John Perse SEAMARKS. Translated by Wallace Fowlie TB/aooa 

Jean Seznec THE SURVIVAL OF THE PAGAN GODS: The Mythological Tradition and Its Place 

in Renaissance Humanism and Art. Illustrated. TB/aoo4 
Heinrich Zimmer MYTHS AND SYMBOLS IN INDIAN *RT AND CIVILIZATION. Illus. 



HARPER TORGHBOOKS/The Academy Library 



James Baird ISHMAEL: The Art of Melville in the Contexts of International Primitivtsm 

TB/I023 

Herschel Baker THE IMAGE OF MAN: A Study of the Idea of Human Dignity in Classical 

Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance TB/IO47 
Jacques Barzun THE HOUSE OF INTELLECT TB/IOSI 

\V. J. Bate FROM CLASSIC TO ROMANTIC: Premises of Taste in iBth Century England 

TB/I036 

MaxBeloff THE AOE OF ABSOLUTISM, 1660-1815 TB/io6a 

Henri Bergson TIME AND FREE WILL: The Immediate Data of Consciousness TB/IOSI 
H. J. Blackoam six EXISTENTIALIST THINKERS: Kierkegaard, Jaspers, Nietzsche, Marcel, 

Heidegger, Sartre TB/IOOB 

Walter Bromberg THE MIND OF MAN: A History of Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis 13/1003 
Abraham Cahan THE RISE OF DAVID LEVINSKY. A novel. Intro, by John Higham TB/ioa8 

Helen Cam ENGLAND BEFORE ELIZABETH TB/ioa6 
Joseph Ciiarles THE ORIGINS OF THE AMERICAN PARTY SYSTEM 13/1049 

Cochran & Miller THE AGE OF ENTERPRISE: A Social History of Industrial America 18/1054 
Norman Cohn THE PURSUIT OF THE MILLENNIUM* Revolutionary Messianism in Medieval and 
Reformation Europe and its Bearing on Modern Totalitarian Movements 

TB/I037 
G. G. CoultOn MEDIEVAL VILLAGE, MANOR, AND MONASTERY TB/IO22 

Wilfrid Desan THE TRAGIC FINALE: The Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre TB/IOSO 

Cora Du Bois THE PEOPLE OF ALOR: A Social-Psychological Study of an East Indian Island. 

Vol. I, illustrated, TB/IO42; Vol. II, TB/IO43 

George Eliot DANIEL DERONDA. A novel. Introduction by F. R. Leavis TB/iogg 
John N.Figgis POLITICAL THOUGHT FROM CERSON TO GROTIUS: 1414-1625: Seven Studies. 

Introduction by Garrett Mattingly TB/IO33 

Editors of Fortune AMERICA IN THE SIXTIES: The Economy and the Society TB/IOIS 
F. L. Ganshof FEUDALISM TB/iosS 

G. P. Goodb ENGLISH DEMOCRATIC IDEAS IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY TB/IOo6 

Albert Goodwin THE FRENCH REVOLUTION 18/1064 

Francis J. Grund ARISTOCRACY IN AMERICA: A Study of Jacksonian Democracy TB/IOOI 
W. K. C. Guthrie THE GREEK PHILOSOPHERS: From Tholes to Aristotle TB/ioo8 
Marcus Lee Hansen THE ATLANTIC MIGRATION: 1607-1860. Intro, by Oscar Handlin TB/IOSS 

Alfred Harbage AS THEY LIKED rr: A Study of Shakespeare's Moral Artistry 18/1035 
John Higham, Ed. THE RECONSTRUCTION OF AMERICAN HISTORY TB/io68 
J. M. Hussey THE BYZANTINE WORLD 13/1057 

Henry James THE PRINCESS CASAMASSIMA. A novel. Intro, by Clinton Oliver 13/1005 
Henry James RODERICK HUDSON. A novel. Introduction by Leon Edel T/ioi6 
Henry James THE TRAGIC MUSE. A novel. Introduction by Leon Edel TB/IOI? 
William James PSYCHOLOGY: The Briefer Course. Ed. with Intro, by G. AUport TB/I034 
Arnold Kettle AN INTRODUCTION TO THE ENGLISH NOVEL. Vol. I, Defoe to George Eliot, 

TB/IOII; Vol. II, Henry James to the Present, TB/ioia 
Hans Kohn, Ed . THE MIND OF MODERN RUSSIA: Historical and Political Thought of Russia's 

Great Age TB/io65 
Samuel Noah Kramer SUMERIAN MYTHOLOGY: A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the 

Third Millennium B.C. Illustrated TB/IOSS 
Paul Oskar Kristeller RENAISSANCE THOUGHT: The Classic, Scholastic, and Humanist Strains 

TB/IQifl